A Review of the Copenhagen Zoo

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Guess who outlined ideas for a review of the Copenhagen Zoo and then forgot to publish it?

So yes, this is incredibly late, and I’m very much surprised that I never fully wrote this post. Maybe I was intimidated by the sheer number of photos I knew would be in here. Whatever the reason, let’s talk about Denmark’s iconic zoo.

You know what I hate about the Copenhagen Zoo? Nothing, it was a delightful experience.

Exhibit Size

I always felt like I was spoiled with zoos and museums growing up, having access to the Houston Zoo and the Houston Museum of Natural History. Obviously they’ll be outclassed by the San Diego Zoo and the Smithsonian, but I wasn’t expecting the Copenhagen Zoo to be any better than Houston’s. Heck, I was expecting a repeat of the Central Park Zoo, which I remember having very small enclosures (it’s in the middle of a city) and even inaccurate informational posters.

Elephant exhibit
One of the indoor elephant enclosures

But even though the Copenhagen Zoo is in Denmark’s capital, the exhibits were absolutely enormous. The Zoo only has 27 acres of land (compared to Houston’s 55 and San Diego’s 100), but the enclosures for any given animal seemed about three times the size of Houston’s. No animals were pacing except for the wolves (granted, it’s difficult to give wolves enough space). The polar bear had five separate enclosures, not including the water sections. Even the tiny red panda and Capuchins had two different exhibits they could walk between, using mesh tubes that spanned overhead. And the elephants? Jesus Christ. Not only did they have the usual large outdoor sandlot, but they also had three separate indoor enclosures (though one was exclusively for the bull elephant).

Red panda 2

Red Panda

And it really seemed to show. The animals all seemed a lot happier and more active — not to mention fertile, as there was hardly an exhibit without babies. The macaques, elephants, giraffes, hippos, capuchins, and bears all had offspring following them around.

Exhibit Closeness

Wallby
Close-up wallabies 

You might think that with such large enclosures it would be difficult to spot and/or interact with the animals, but this was also not true. In fact, I have never been able to get closer to zoo animals before. There’s a section of the zoo where (with a tour guide), you can walk through the kangaroo and wallaby exhibit. Many of the rainforest sections (indoors. I mean, it is Denmark in the winter, after all.) were walk-throughs, with sloths and wild fowl and butterflies perfectly within reach. I also got extremely close to a sea lion, which popped out of the water to sit on a rock about two inches away from the edge of the fence I was leaning over. I could have pet that sea lion. I didn’t, but I could have.

Then, as usual, there was the petting zoo. The kids’ zoo was pretty standard, except where many zoos have little glass tubes kids can use to pop up among the mercats, the Copenhagen Zoo instead had big fat rabbits.

Jungle indoors
Walk-through rainforest exhibit

Christmas Trees and Indoor Summers

It was early January, and Denmark doesn’t skimp on Christmas.

Many of the animals had been given tiny Christmas trees, and it was fascinating to see how each species chose to interact with them. The yak ate its tree, the macaques picked it apart and used the branches as stim toys, the Capuchins climbed all over theirs, and the wolves used theirs to mark territory.

Macaque Tree
Macaque enjoying a Christmas tree branch
Yak Tree
Yak enjoying its Christmas tree

Many of the warm-weather animals had both indoor and outdoor exhibits, which they could move between freely. How warm were those indoor exhibits? My glasses fogged up when I stepped inside. This sort of central heating was probably helped by the fact that the zoo was organized by biome (which was also convenient for finding one’s way around).

Conservation and Education

SATW Copenhagen Zoo
Comic by Humon, creator of Scandinavia and the World, which you should totally read

I think one reason why the Copenhagen Zoo has a lower star rating on Google compared to San Diego and Houston might have something to do with that time they publicly dissected a lioness.

The Danes are…not squeamish. Near the animals’ exhibits, they had informational posters, often talking about conservation and poaching. The elephant exhibit featured a massive hall with a spiral path leading down to ground level, where the elephants were feeding and playing with toys indoors. Along the walls of that long path were pictures and artifacts from humanity’s complicated history with the animals. There were old carvings and tribal sculptures of elephants, as well as pictures and videos of elephants being whipped for circuses and descriptions of their current street slavery in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Elephant Worship
Elephant worship section of the elephant hall

Near the polar bear exhibit, several posters showed pictures of poached polar bears being scalped, the blood staining their white fur. Even the interactive games for kids (Pretend to be a polar bear and hunt a seal!) frequently featured blood.

In Denmark, this is no big deal. Remember, this is the country that has Bonbon Land (is you’re not at work, look up “Bonbon Land Cow Mascot”). The Puritans who foudned America are probably flipping in their graves at the idea of chiildren being exposed to so much gore, but I thought it was nice to handle the issues with maturity and full disclosure. These animals are butchered when poachers get a hold of them, and showing pictures helps drive home the message (conveniently located right next to a donation box…).

What I Didn’t Like

Ok, so in reality, there were some things that I didn’t like about the zoo. A large part of it was that I was visiting on a very empty day. It was drizzling, it was the weekend, it was close to New Year’s, no one was there. Thus, a lot of the food stands were closed, and the zoo did give off a dreary vibe.

It was also incredibly difficult to find two very important things: a bathroom, and the second half of the zoo. I assume that, because Copenhagen is a centuries-old city with very little building space, the second half of the zoo was added in after the main section, connected by a small tunnel underneath a road. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find this tunnel and thus hard to find all of the African Savannah animals as well as the kids’ portion of the zoo.

Finally, my biggest issue with the Copenhagen Zoo is that it just wasn’t open long enough. Like I said before, it was a delightful experience and I would have loved to stay longer. Because I can watch the arctic foxes climb from the bottom half to the top half of their exhibit all day:


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