The Dutch are known for many things: wooden shoes, windmills, water management, and weird food. It's a shame that they're not known for their zoos, as well.
Today, being one of those rare days when I ran out of things that I have to do so I could start doing things that I want to do, I decided to go to the Burgers Zoo in the next city over (Arnhem) and see if it was really worth the extortionist price of admission, which was advertised on their website as €18.50, but €20 if you pay with your PIN. Needless to say, I made sure to have a €20 bill on hand, and some cash. There's one universal feature of zoos, and that is that they will gouge you till you're sausage meat for concessions. Admittedly, I could have bought my own water and snacks, but that would require that I lug around a liter of water on top of my DSLR, lenses, and book (for the train ride), and secondly, it would look Very Dutch, and not in a good way.
The other thing is, I hadn't expected to stay there as long as I did.
Because the zoo is HUGE. As in, HOLY CRAP HOW DOES THIS ALL FIT INTO THE COUNTRY huge. The main attaction is probably the "safari", which is a small collection of ungulates, a pride of lions, and a cheetah--but it sounds exotic so everybody (myself included) goes to see what it's all about. They have about 7 species of antelope, on top of the usual (giraffes, zebras), and something like 3-4 rhinocerous. The pride of lions, interestingly was the most crowded, beating out the cheetah easily. It was probably still cool enough for them to be active.
Once you get through the gate, most people, like marbles, tend downhill. Downhill leads you to the Bush/Ocean Safari/Desert complex, which is an enormous building that houses a jungle (for some reason called "bush" in the Netherlands and always makes me giggle on the inside a little) full of free-flying birds, with tanks carved into the rocks for exhibits like caimans and turtles. It's hot, and humid, and there are far more paths through the place than you'd think, not only because they go through gateways and wind into caves, but they also go up and down, and they do not re-join the main one, if there is such a thing.
At some point, you are given a choice: Ocean Safari, or Desert. The Desert exhibit is another huge labyrinth, although there was a little method to the madness in the sense that there was actually a direction to follow. First, you go underground, through a blessedly-air-conditioned tunnel that just begs for a good round of paintball or laser-tag. There are tunnels to crawl through and columns shaped like stalagmites to hide behind. And then you enter the Desert, which is just like the Bush exhibit, except that rather than jungle you have cacti, but you still have free-flying birds. Not as many, but they did have turkey vultures that would occasionally do a loop. There was also an exhibit of mountain goat. Roadrunners, and indigo buntings, were also there--words cannot express the irony that I, who come from the US, saw these birds for the first time in the Netherlands.
After the Desert exhibit you can partake of all of thei exotic--and not-so-exotic--birds. I for one found it especially amusing that the cardinal, that bright red bird of Christmas, is considered an attraction. But for the most part, their collection of passerines is eclectic and huge. And I, being a bird lover, was in seventh heaven.
There is also an aquarium, which is also not anything to write home about, seeing as every single one of the exhibits contains the exact same kinds of fish. I don't know about you, but there are only so many clownfish I can stand to look at before I get bored out of my mind. I can't fault them for trying, but I really wish they'd have done something better with the space.
But perhaps the best part of the trip was how the exhibits were arranged. This photo, for instance, is only slightly-cropped, taken with a 105 mm lens:
Not only are the spaces HUGE, they're also 75% surrounded by faux-rocks and plants, so that you get to feel like you're actually peeping through to see the animal in its natural habitat. For many of the large-animal exhibits, the only place to view them was from an enclosed viewing platform, which is actually pretty neat because a) the animals aren't nearly so stressed from being out on display all day, and b) little screaming whining kids don't bother the animals.
The Burger Zoo isn't as great as, say, the Smithsonian zoo. I don't think anything can trump the Smithsonian, but then again, I don't think anybody else has anything approaching half the budget for the Smithsonian. But I'm afraid I have to say it's tons better than the Philadelphia Zoo. Even without the lorikeets.