The world-renown Prague Zoo partially opened to visitors on Monday, as part of a gradual easing of measures put in place to contain the spread of coronavirus. For the moment, the number of daily visitors is capped and indoor exhibitions and pavilions remain roped off. While the Czech public is definitely excited to see the animals, especially new arrivals, zookeepers say some animals are also keen to see people.
A panda pair in lockdown at the Ocean Park zoo in Hong Kong made headlines early this month after having managed to mate – after a full decade of failed attempts. Perhaps the pandas craved privacy. Or perhaps romance blossomed as a result of coronavirus “cabin fever”, jokes Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek.
“They were probably so bored during the quarantine that they had no choice but to have sex – because pandas are often so lazy. In all seriousness, many people ask how the animals in the zoo are reacting to the absence of visitors. The caretakers say some animals are clearly bored, because visitors are important stimuli for them. Just as people look at animals, so do animals watch people.”
The need for interaction is especially evident among primates, Bobek told Czech Radio ahead of the partial reopening. He recalls a photo popular on the Prague Zoo website of a young male gorilla named Ajab, who came placed his hand on the enclosure glass in a gesture of apparent affection for caretaker Lucie Holátová.
“That definitely speaks to this need. For other animals, of course, the peace and quiet is better, even beneficial. But, as I say, we cannot read the animals’ minds. It varies certainly from species to species – and from individual to individual.”
A dozen zoos across the Czech Republic petitioned last week to be allowed to reopen their outdoor facilities sooner than the initial May 25 date set by the government, arguing the risk of coronavirus spreading in such circumstances were no greater than in parks, which people are allowed to visit.
Prague Zoo normally draws over 1.5 million visitors during the year, and tens of thousands daily when the spring season begins in late March. Anticipating interest will outstrip the temporary 8,500 daily cap on visitation, Miroslav Bobek notes that the zoo will continue to post videos documenting the lives of the animals, filmed by zookeepers.
Videos of a baby female Asian elephant born last month, interacting with her mother, Tamara, have gotten the most hits on YouTube. But the zoo has welcomed over a hundred new editions spanning more than 40 species, including a rare Przewalski horse and a Malayan Tapir.
“There have been so many births, I can’t even say. It really is heart-warming. There were about 120 just during the period we were closed. The absolute ‘star’ is the elephant cub on March 27, the day before we would normally celebrate the start of the season. We’re expecting another elephant birth soon.
“And because our financial losses have of course been huge due to the closure, we’ve been letting the public know about these births and the opportunity to ‘adopt’ or sponsor these baby animals.”
For those hoping to visit Prague Zoo, please note that ticket booths remain closed while online sales starts at 5pm for the next day. Indoor areas should reopen on May 25. For more information, see www.zoopraha.cz/en