Stuttgart: Wilhelma's exotic animals, lush greenery offer a tropical escape

A giraffe does a little jawin’ with the visitors.


By BEN MURRAY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 29, 2005

Crossing over a burbling stream in a steamy patch of Amazonian rain forest, with glasses fogging and sweat beading up, it’s easy to forget you’re in Germany.

Flowers are in bloom, the air is thick with humidity and tropical birds call from the jungle on either side of the dirt path. Alligators bask in the wash of a waterfall, and monkeys stare down from the canopy, hooting occasionally.

It’s a setting that makes up one of the many pleasant surprises of the Wilhelma Zoological and Botanical Gardens in downtown Stuttgart, Germany, an island of animal and plant life that showcases everything from pink flamingos to chest-beating gorillas.

While a proper zoo in many ways, with exhibits featuring animals from around the globe, it’s the park’s three indoor oases of heat and greenery that make it a refreshing respite from the winter blahs.

Set among the traffic and bustle of the city, the airy Amazonian re-creation has a neighboring greenhouse and a two-story tropical bird and plant enclosure. They offer visitors a trio of chances to take off their coats, smell the roses and remember what summer feels like.

Of the three, the jungle exhibit is the most expansive and interactive. Visitors brush up against the vegetation as they walk along a running stream. Songbirds and reptiles roam free. Tame, flightless trumpeter birds share the paths in the half-domed building.

Arranged so that the three climate-controlled areas surround the park’s central Moorish gardens, the Wilhelma offers a number of ways for visitors to tour the zoo, and enough options to more than fill an entire day.

Starting at the greenhouse that adjoins the park’s entrance gate, visitors are funneled directly into an aquarium and reptile house, also home to a tribe of emperor penguins and the zoo’s crocodile display area.

From there, flora-philes can dive directly into a tropical environment at the bird and bat enclosure, where ferns and colorful toucans rule the roost, or move deeper into the park to see the big animals of the Wilhelma.

There are tigers, elephants, a rhino and a pair of portly hippopotamuses — if it’s big and normally wild, the Wilhelma likely has it — and the zoo makes an effort to provide its tenants with indoor/outdoor facilities that let viewers approach to almost within reach of the animals.

Though the zoo makes little effort to group animals from similar geographic or climate zones together (the polar bears are next to the alpacas), it does strive for variety by frequently putting two compatible species in a single enclosure. The baboons, for example, share a rocky outdoor outcrop with a herd of mountain goats, and the river turtles bask alongside the resident alligators.

With the arrival of spring, attractions (and animals) at the Wilhelma will begin to move outdoors, according to the zoo’s Web site.

As the weather warms up, visitors can watch sea lions, big cats and crocodiles receive their daily feedings, and view Europe’s largest magnolia grove. It’s a time for botany fans to visit the zoo, the site says.

“In spring, the Wilhelma wears a many-hued gown of a thousand plants,” the site reads.

And keep an eye out for the flamingos.

On the QT ...

DIRECTIONS: The Wilhelma Zoological and Botanical Gardens is on Neckartalstrasse just north of the city center in Stuttgart, Germany, near the intersection of B27, B14 and B29. Once in the city from autobahn 8, 31 or 81, follow the signs marked by an elephant symbol to the park.

TIMES: From March through October, the main ticket office is open from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m., the animal houses are open until 6:15 p.m., and the aquarium and Amazon displays until 6:30 p.m. Outdoor areas are open until dark, or 8 p.m. at the latest.

COSTS: Adult tickets are 10.80 euros and children’s tickets are 5.40 euros, with reduced rates after 4 p.m. and group rates available. Pay parking is available next to the main entrance.

FOOD: The zoo has a restaurant, the Shaubauernhof, next to the main entrance, and snack stands scattered throughout the park.

INFORMATION: Events in the park include feedings for various animals, including the baby apes, with times announced daily. More information is available here or by calling the zoo office at 0711-54020.

— Ben Murray

A polar bear goes airborne off a rocky diving board in its pool and playground.

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