The chimpanzee enclosure is built on a slope. However, after climbing dozens of meters, visitors to the Brno Zoo will not see the chimpanzees, in whose exhibition a hundred million has already been invested. They will only be greeted by a rope playground, which, according to the zoo, “will provide child visitors with the opportunity to play with apes during construction.”
Great apes in the Brno Zoo, where their breeding has a decades-long tradition, have been missing for more than two years. According to Seznam Zpráv findings, the city is now preparing a lawsuit against the former director of the zoo, who was behind the reconstruction. The paddock does not meet safety parameters, the iDnes server reported earlier.
“The main reason for the unsuitability of the paddock is its safety aspect. Chimpanzees are extremely intelligent, physically fit and strong animals. Under the current conditions, they could escape from the enclosure or endanger themselves or zoo visitors,” explains Jana Pluháčková, the European coordinator for chimpanzee breeding. According to her, the outdoor enclosure, which does not meet the current safety requirements of the European conservation program for chimpanzees, is risky.
There are two main problems that prevent chimpanzees from entering the enclosure. The walkway lacks a safety net – so the chimpanzees could hypothetically pelt visitors with stones, sticks or other objects. On the other side, the area is surrounded by a wall barely two meters high, which, according to experts, would not be able to prevent the determined apes from escaping.
“The safest solution would be to net the outdoor enclosure, but even then it would not solve all the problems that the enclosure has,” summarizes Pluháčková. As he adds, experts rank chimpanzees, like big cats, among extremely dangerous animals. According to the coordinator, concerns about the health of visitors are completely justified.
The chimpanzees, who before the reconstruction lived in a fenced area the size of a three-room apartment, cannot therefore return to the zoo despite the hundred million investment.
“We are waiting for the founder’s decision (city of Brno, editor’s note). In the current state, there are two options. The exposure will appear to be suitable for chimpanzees, which can work out to another lower tens of millions. The second option is to change the species composition,” zoo press spokesman Michal Vaňáč told Seznam Zprávám.
The second option would probably mean that birds and jellyfish will head to the interior of the exhibit. Other monkeys – long-haired geladas – will take over the escarpment. However, the gelding male Heiko, who is famous for his escapes in Brno, can head into the paddock. In the past, he traveled the farthest to the golf course, which is seven kilometers from the zoo.
The founder of the zoo is Brno. Deputy Mayor Jaroslav Suchý (KDU-ČSL), under whose responsibility the zoo falls, is responsible for operations. He blames the former management for the failed project. “For me, the project was clearly designed badly, and we will consider a lawsuit against the former management of the zoo,” he told Seznam Zprávám.
However, the former director defends himself and, on the contrary, sharply criticizes the current management, with whom he has long-term strained relations. “It’s disinformation, a campaign, lies. The modifications would cost two million, maybe even a million. This is the money the zoo has, moreover, modifications were made during operation in almost every enclosure,” says Martin Hovorka, who has led the zoo for a quarter of a century.
He adds that it would be a waste of all the work and expense if the chimps didn’t end up living in the enclosure. “In twenty-five years, I have encountered very complicated problems, but we have always solved them. Those who want, look for ways, those who don’t want, look for reasons,” he says.
Demanding on space
Chimpanzees are very popular with visitors to zoos. There are around seven hundred of them living in European zoos today. However, their breeding is difficult, as illustrated by the case of the Brno paddock.
“It is necessary to have adequate security in the exhibits, which we must check for objects, stones or, for example, parts of branches that the chimpanzees could use against keepers, visitors, or to damage other equipment,” explains Zoo Hodonín press spokesman Ivo Cencinger. Three chimpanzees from Brno headed here two years ago.
According to Jana Pluháčková, chimpanzees are very demanding of space for social reasons. “Space is especially important at the time of the arrival of a new individual in the group, or when an alpha individual in a leadership position changes. In similar situations, the animal most often escapes, which is then able to overcome even very difficult obstacles, including electric fences, in an attempt to escape from the pressure in the group,” he explains.
According to her, primates should have the opportunity to live in larger groups, but also to retreat to solitude for a while. Great apes also need their privacy, where they can hide from the eyes of visitors. “The exhibition must not lack various elements for rest, movement, climbing and also elements of so-called enrichment, for example termite mounds, puzzles and the like,” adds Ivo Cencinger.
Loyal visitors don’t mind the missing animals
Brno Zoo is facing yet another problem. The polar bear exhibit, which is also one of the main attractions, has been closed since September. A path leads to the paddock along an unstable slope, which must now be secured for safety reasons. According to the city, the repairs will cost a little over 20 million crowns and should begin in November. It should be finished by the end of next year.
Thus, those interested can only watch the polar bear Cora via a live broadcast, which is available on the zoo’s website. “Of course we hope that everything will be done as soon as possible. On the other hand, we have to pay attention to safety, so we cannot underestimate anything,” said spokesman Vaňáč.
But the missing animals do not bother the visitors. “Of course, we will be happy if the chimpanzees come back, but we would not stop coming here,” assure Igor Pehal and Lucie Kusová, father and daughter, who are sitting with their little granddaughter by the playground in the empty chimpanzee enclosure. During regular visits, it serves as a place for them to rest.
Klára Ševčíková perceives it similarly. He often goes for walks to the zoo with his family, they have a season ticket. But the zoo’s offer to let the children temporarily replace the apes and play in the enclosure on the playground did not appeal to her. “I don’t feel the need to exhibit my children in the paddock,” she says.
“I appreciate the peace here, I don’t need an animal exhibition right next to me, where I would be pressed against the glass with a million other people. If I needed to see a chimpanzee up close, I’d rather watch a documentary,” says Mrs. Ivana, who walks around the zoo with a stroller. Another visitor sees it the same way: “I’m not such a big fan of closed animals, I don’t need to see them up close at the cost of their discomfort.”