The Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world and it is one of Antwerpâ€™s most popular attractions. With an animal population of over 5,000 and more than 950 different species, it attracts over one million visitors each year. The Royal Society of Zoology was founded in 1843. It acquired 4 acres of land well outside the Spanish walls, next to the East Station. In 1904, the small East Station of Antwerp was replaced by the current Central Station. The new Antwerp Zoo kept expanding throughout the 19th century until it was about 26 acres large. Recently a new expansion has been announced which by 2017 will add a surface of 15,000 sq m (4 acres) to the existing zoo.
During the 19th century expansion several â€˜exotic styleâ€™ buildings were constructed to house the animals. One of the most remarkable buildings is the 1856 Egyptian temple which currently houses the giraffes. It was modeled after the 1854 â€˜Egyptian Courtâ€™ at the Crystal Palace in London. The hieroglyphs symbolize the relationship between the Royal Society of Zoology and the City of Antwerp.
After the Second World War the Antwerp Zoo was reorganized in order to create a â€˜model zooâ€™ with more focus on education and with more space and light for the animals. The last couple of decades the Antwerp Zoo has started to focus more and more on the creation of biotopes where animals can walk around more or less freely.
The Antwerp Zoological garden holds the studbook for five animals, including the okapi. This animal was introduced in the Antwerp zoo shortly after its discovery in Congo. There are still several of these strange animals with long tongues in the zoo. More than 75% of the okapis in captivity have Antwerp blood. Some other notable animals out of the +900 species include the polar bear, Siberian tigers, Indian lions, Arabian oryxes, Indian elephants, gorillas, bisons, orangutans, crocodiles, small panda, koala, panthers, sharks,â€¦
Other attractions include the planetarium, the winter garden, birdhouse, reptile building, nocturama (nocturnal animals), aquarium and the recently created vriesland (â€™freeze landâ€™): a biotope with sea otters, King penguins and macaroni penguins. The most recent biotope is the â€™swamp landâ€™, where you can see the habitat of the hippopotamus, tapirs, pelicans and some other animals. The Antwerp Zoo used to have a dolphinarium with several dolphins, but the basin was too small, so the dolphins were replaced by sea lions. The former dolphin show is now replaced by a very popular sea lion show.
The Antwerp zoo also has a â€˜kidsiteâ€™, with a playground and some small animals that the children can touch. Also on the site are three different restaurants and a shop.
If youâ€™re not interested in animals, the exceptionally well kept gardens are worth a visit in itself. Many of the gardens feature beautiful sculptures created with flowers and shrubbery. It is certainly the most beautiful garden in Antwerp.
When visiting the zoo, make sure you reserve at least half a day as thereâ€™s a lot going on. Also, make sure you get a map of the Antwerp Zoo. At the entrance you can also obtain a schedule of the feeding times of the animals. You can also find them at their website, unfortunately not available in English. Most of the staff at the Antwerp Zoo do speak English and maps and brochures are available in English as well.
The entrance of the Antwerp Zoo is located at the Astrid Square, right next to the Antwerp Central Station.
Opening hours are from 10:00 and, depending on a season until:
* January-February -16:45
* March-April – 17:30
* May-June – 18:00
* July-August – 19:00
* September = 18:00
* October – 17:30
* November-December – 16:45
* Easter holidays – 17:30
* All Sundays and holidays from the Easter till end-September – 19:00
Source: www.aviewoncities.com, www.zooantwerpen.be