Berlin’s Zoological Garden in the Tiergarten district is the oldest zoo in Germany and, with nearly 1,500 different species, one of the best-stocked in the world. Animals have been kept and bred here since 1844. Today, the zoo hosts about 19,500 animals, ranging from jelly fish to Indian elephants. Many, such as the polar bears and baby gorillas, have become celebrities, while quite a few enclosures are interesting in their own right, making a zoo visit a favourite day out for Berlin ers and visitors.
Animals at Zoo Berlin
King Penguin / Aptenodytes patagonicus
King penguins, with a body length of over a meter, are the second largest penguins on our planet after the emperor penguin. They live in rings around Antarctica, where they come together to form large breeding colonies. They feed on fish, crabs and all kinds of other delicacies from the sea. King penguins hunt together in their groups for large schools of fish. They come together here in swarms and snap at everything they come across. The parents work together. If a female has laid her egg, the father takes it at his feet for the subsequent breeding season and covers it with his belly fold. The mother returns with a large stock of predigested fish mash for the young chick after it has hatched. At that point the male does the strengthening, and afterwards the parents alternate positions.
Okapi / Okapia johnstoni
The okapi has eluded science since the early 20th century. Nevertheless, the shy forest dwellers were quickly classified as belonging to the giraffe family. The stripes on the limbs are particular striking since they are reminiscent of the zebra at first sight. The okapi is an even-toed ungulate that is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal. It is also referred to as the short-necked giraffe or the forest giraffe. The animals still haven't been fully researched up to this day. They are solitary animals, very shy and are able to live perfectly camouflaged in the forest thanks to their stripes. While okapi babies are already capable of standing just two hours after their birth and plodding along behind their mothers a mere couple of days later, they then seek out a permanent home, where the mother visits and suckles them. They spend the next two months snoozing and prefer to let their mums do all the running around! Man is the largest threat to the okapi. The animals aren't able to tolerate any interference through the cultivation of the forest by man, flee and lose their food resources and habitat. They are also additionally hunted for their meat.
Capybara / Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
The Indian name of the water pig, "capybara", means "master of the grasses", which also reveals their main source of food. Their perfectly positioned sensory organs on the top of their heads, such as the nose, ears and eyes, is indicative of the fact that they are particularly well adapted to life in the water. This enables them to almost completely submerge themselves, yet still being able to see, smell and hear properly. Capybaras produce offspring once a year. The little capybaras are suckled for two months, but they are capable of nibbling thin parts of plants shortly after their birth. A practical necessity, because the little ones are left to fend for themselves after the end of the suckling period. They live together in large groups of up to 30 animals. The precise composition may vary depending the surroundings and season. The drier it is, the larger the group. You will very rarely see them on their own – and if you do, they are more likely to be young males.
Red kangaroo / Macropus rufus
Red kangaroos are not only the largest species of kangaroo, they are even the largest marsupial species. They live in the outback of Australia, where they can pass through long distances with ease thanks to their enormously wide and high jumping motions, searching for their vegetarian nourishment and even going head to head with an opponent in a boxing match! The steppe dwellers are active during the day and scan their surroundings for grasses and herbs. Their jumping motions quickly leave a long trail behind them, reaching speeds of up to 90 km/h in doing so. Their large tails help to balance their weight in every situation. A new-born kangaroo weighs just 2 grammes at birth and is no bigger than a fingertip. It crawls through the mother's fur into the pouch on her belly where it drinks milk and starts to grow into a young kangaroo over the following eight moths. Only after this period does it dare to venture out. Kangaroos are unable to walk backwards, but they have two different ways of moving forward. With a slow tempo, the front legs and the tail of the animal are used for support, while the back legs are used to swing forward. It jumps if it has to move quickly.
Orangutan / Pongo abelii
The orangutan belongs to the great apes and as forest dwellers, are best suited frolicking around the treetops. Both species, the Borneo orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) – the latter can be found in Zoo Berlin – are critically endangered since their habitat is shrinking dangerously fast. Orangutans enjoy the perfect conditions for a life in the trees with an arm span of more than two metres. They find their mainly vegetarian diet here, which includes everything from tree bark to leaves and fruits of the trees. The great apes are solitary animals, unlike many of their relatives. The orangutan youth maintain a close relationship with their mothers for a long time. The offspring only leave their mothers after five to seven years, whereby the females even then seek out an area that is very close by. Just because orangutans like to take a little nap up in the canopy now and again, this doesn't mean that they're lacking brain cells. The intelligence of these great apes has been underestimated for quite some time. They are certainly no less talented than chimpanzees and gorillas.
Rhino / Diceros bicornis
The black rhino has a pointed, elongated upper lip, which is so flexible that it enables the giant to skillfully pluck even the smallest of leaves. The vegetarians live in Africa, where they inhabit a territory of up to 40 square kilometers in Savannah as solitary creatures. The black rhino is the second largest variant of rhino in Africa. They can weigh up to 1.5 tonnes, which is why they need to consume vast amounts of leaves, shrubs, young acacia shoots and many other plant foods on a daily basis. Black rhinos know how to use their bulky shape and two horns. The animals don't have to look far and as a result, often attack more frequently as they simply do not know where the danger is. The animals do not have a wide range of vision and as a result often charge a lot more than you would think is normal, as they simply do not know where the danger is. The bigger of the two horns on the bridge of the nose of the black rhino is 50 centimeters long on average. A few cases have even seen lengths up to 138 centimeters. There are also occasionally rudiments of a third horn on the forehead. They are made up of thousands of fibers of keratin, which wind their way into the horn.
Polar Bear / Ursus maritimus
With the standing height of the polar bear, also called "ice bear", reaching up to three meters, it is one of the biggest land-based predators on Earth. It has no natural enemies in its home in the arctic and is a solitary animal that spends its time hunting for seals. Polar bears are perfectly equipped for life in the Arctic. During times in which prey is in abundance, they develop a layer of fat reaching ten centimetres. This and the thick fur keeps the polar bears warm in icy temperatures of up to minus 50 degrees centigrade and is used as an energy storage. Thanks to their fur, polar bears are hardly visible to their prey in the snow and are thus perfectly camouflaged. At the same time, their hair is not white, but actually transparent and hollow. The sun's rays can be transferred to the underlying black skin thanks to this structure, which acts as an excellent storage of heat – a heating system produced naturally in the body! In the case of heavy exertion and whilst running, they are able to release excess body heat outwardly solely using their tongue, which is why they prefer to move more slowly. They are genuine long-distance swimmers under water since they use their broad paws with webbed toes like paddles. Expectant polar bear mothers hole themselves up in snow caves between November and January to give birth and nurse their offspring into the world. At birth, the young are bare, blind, deaf and are barely bigger than guinea pigs. The mothers only leave the caves with the little ones weighing ten kilos after three months. She must regain her strength to fill the mouths of the hungry bears with their milk for another 17 months.
Asian Elephant / Elephas maximus
The Asian elephant weighs approximately five tonnes and is three meters high, making it the largest land mammal in Asia and thus somewhat smaller than its larger African relative. Asian elephants feed a lot and sleep little – they spend about 17–19 hours alone eating. They devour approx. 150 kg of plant food on a daily basis, which consists mainly of grass, leaves, twigs and tree bark. They can drink up to 150 liters when visiting the water point. As opposed to us humans, the nose and upper lip are fused together into one long formation. Using their trunks, they can take in food, breathe, smell, communicate, grasp or suck up water and then blow it into their mouths. If danger threatens, then the otherwise good-natures animals can also make use of their trunks to defend themselves and to inflict deadly blows to enemies. As social herd animals, elephants live together in large family units consisting of mothers, aunts and daughters, with the most experienced cow being the leader of the group. Bulls join the herd only during the mating season and otherwise move on alone afterwards. Even male offspring leave the herd when they reach 8–10 years – only the cows remain together for a lifetime. An Asian elephant cow gives birth to her calf after a gestation period of approx. 22 months. Even at birth the small mammal weighs around 100 kg. It takes approx. 15–17 years before an Asian elephant reaches full maturity. While a cow weighs around 2.7 tonnes, an adult bull reaches almost twice as much with a weight of around 5 tonnes.
Meerkat / Suricata suricatta
Meerkats, a mongoose species, live in large groups of up to 30 animals and are native to Namibia, Angola, parts of Botswana and South Africa. They set up camp in underground caves and go on the lookout for food in arid lands during the day. The meerkat, which is primarily active during the day, not only likes to enjoy a swim in the sun. They dig burrows up to three meters deep into the earth for the whole family or hunt spiders, beetles and other insects out in the sun. The group is lead by a couple, consisting of the Alpha male and the Alpha female. One of the meerkats from the group always stands guard. This enables the rest of the family to go on the prowl in peace or lie around lazily in the sun. As enemies like jackals or birds of prey approach, the mini-watchman lets off a shrill whistling sound and the rest of the family sweeps into the burrows. All the adult animals in the group look after the upbringing of the lively little meerkats. The babies are suckled for around 80 days. Pre-masticated pulp gets fed to them after six weeks, contributing to the rapid growing and strengthening of the little ones.
Hippo / Hippopotamus amphibius
There are two different variants in the hippo family, the hippo described here – also known as the "river horse" – and the pygmy hippo. The large canines and incisors of hippos play a significant role in their everyday life. Hippos live in savannahs where they inhabit the banks of rivers and lakes. The hippo is a happy-go-lucky contemporary. They snooze in the water during the day, where often only their ears, eyes and the nostrils of their powerful mouth peer out. They may even take a nice soak in the mud too. They become livelier at night and head to the shores where they can taste the succulent grass. The animals dive under the water with their nostrils folded, allowing them to stay underwater for six minutes before they have to resurface once again. The mammals may actually even decide to take a short stroll along the riverbed. The number of hippos has declined by an estimated 10 to 20 per cent within the last ten years. The reasons for this include the hunt for ivory, the incisors and canines of the animals, and the continuing loss of their habitat.
Giraffe / Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata
The reticulated giraffe is the most famous of all giraffes. Their eponymous hallmark is the fur pattern, which reminds us of a golden net. The reticulated giraffe is native to eastern Africa, where they always form loose groups in search of new grazing grounds and waterholes. Giraffes can be found as both lone animals as well as living in casual groups, consisting of cows, calves and up to two bulls. As daytime and nocturnal animals, the giraffes wander through the Savannah looking for feeding sites without claiming their own grounds. A female giraffe gives birth while standing and as a result, her calf falls from a height of around two meters. This is literally a hard introduction to life for the calf, which is why there is always a lot of hay in the zoo ready to break the fall on the otherwise slippery ground and to avoid injury from slipping. It's able to stand up after around an hour after birth and even run a little later on. Giraffes enjoy eating the new shoots of acacia trees the most. You shouldn't just be taken aback by its spine because its 25–50 cm long blue tongue has grown into something quite robust. Giraffes wrap their tongue around the branches very skillfully to strip off the leaves, allowing them to devour up to 80 kg of food per day. When the going gets tough, giraffes can reach speeds of over 50 km/h with their long legs. They rarely lie down to sleep and only rest for a short time and preferably in a standing position. They spread their front legs wide apart when drinking at the waterhole, in order to fully reach the ground. Their stilts are even used to successfully defend against predators because even a single hoof kick to the head is enough to fatally wound a lion.
Gorillas are the largest great apes in the world. They live together in large family groups that are led by a silver-back. Gorillas come in two different types, the western and eastern gorillas with two subspecies. Admire the western lowland gorilla in Zoo Berlin. Gorillas are herbivores. The western lowland gorillas live in western central Africa (e.g. Cameroon, Dem. Rep. Kongo) and seek their food in forests. They form groups here, consisting of one male, the silver back, his females and their joint offspring. The fur of the male turns silvery grey when they are fully grown. Compared to the eastern gorillas, the silver coat of the western lowland gorillas covers the hips and the thighs. The silver-backs are the leaders of the gorilla group and defend their extended family from outside. The last population number estimates of western lowland gorillas indicated approx. 95,000 individuals in existence. In the meantime, unfortunately, we have to assume that the number of the wild animals has decreased dramatically due to the continuous deforestation, the hunt for their meat and the Ebola virus.
California Sea Lion / Zalophus californianus
California sea lions are predators, like all species of seal. Their habitat is not just limited to California, they actually colonize the entire coast from Mexico and, outside the breeding season, even as high up as Alaska, where they live together and hunt. Sea lions live together in large colonies. These are divided into various territories of males who have fought for that place for themselves and their females. The strongest settle in the best places, the young and the weak sea lions are pushed out to the edges. The young sea lion is so independent just two weeks after it's birth that it forms a small 'toddler' group together with other young sea lions and goes off in the group to explore and to learn to swim in shallow waters. The young are suckled by their mothers for three months and afterwards, they take to the open waters step by step. Seal hunters have selectively targeted California sea lions due to their fur and blubber. The species almost died out in the 19th century as a result and the consequences were there to be seen even into the start of the 20th century. There was just the single sea lion on the Channel Islands in 1908.
Lion / Panthera leo
The lion is the second largest predator cat with a body length of around two meters. They live up to their reputation as king of the animals due to their considerable size and mighty hunger – a fully-grown lion devours up to 40 kg of meat per meal. Unlike other cat species, lions lead a sociable life in prides. Around three fully grown dominant males usually live together with up to ten females and their offspring. While the lionesses stay faithful to the herd, dominant males are driven out by their younger rivals after 2–4 years. A lioness can bear up to six offspring away from the pride and initially suckles them alone. After around 6–8 weeks she returns back to the pride with her litter, where the "aunts" are already waiting. All the other lion mothers lend a 'paw' in helping the new lion mother out by suckling the little ones and taking care of them so that she doesn't have to fend for herself – a true "feline nursery". The mainly nocturnal lions prefer to hunt during the night and spend the majority of the day sleeping in a shady area. Yet this sluggish behavior does in no way mean that visitors to the zoo will end up with long faces, since the later feedings of the predators will show us some action, eventually revealing the imposing nature of the big cats.