By Ng Man Kit Harry
In 2010, a cross-eyed opossum named Heidi became an international star after a German tabloid featured of photo of the creature. With more than 180,000 Facebook followers and a song named after her, the beloved creature lived until the ripe old opossum age of 3 in the Leipzig Zoo.
One of the oldest zoos in Europe, The Leipzig Zoo ranks first on travel-rating service Trip Advisor among the 132 attractions in Leipzig, the largest city in the German state of Saxony. And in September this year, it will host the annual conference of the International Congress of Zookeepers.
The 67-acre zoo, almost 1.5 times larger than Victoria Park in Hong Kong, houses approximately 850 different species in six themed areas. And in 2011, the zoo had more than 2 million visitors.
“I don’t know much about animals. I ask the kids to describe the colours and the appearances of the animals,” said zoo visitor Heun, looking for a disguised green lizard known as the Asian water dragon in the full-screen terrarium with his two boys. “They give some hilarious answers such as ‘ugly’, ‘I like it’, or simply ‘I don’t like it’.”
Stefan, who visited the zoo alone, tossed some bread into a pond and watched a duck take the prize, beating out two smaller ducks. “You don’t often have a chance to come to this close,” he said.
There are few cages separating animals from visitors. For the big cats, visitors view them from an open platform, the roars on the other side of a 10-metre-wide moat causing children to scream.
Every year, the animals at the zoo consume more than 210,000 kilograms of fruit and vegetables.
But no animals here are tame, evidenced by the landing of a peacock in the middle of the pathway, the standing up of a hairy black bear and the riot of a group of monkeys.
Involved in conservation breeding programs for more than 75 animal species, the zoo recently had to put down a sick week-old Asian-elephant calf.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of the zoo.