From the Czech cold to the Indonesian jungle, without leaving Prague
Don't let the rushing water and tropical birds fool you into thinking you've left Prague. At the city's zoo, hundreds of people, including President Vaclav Klaus and the Indonesian ambassador, visited Monday's opening of the Indonesian Jungle Pavilion. The exhibit aims to create the experience of a Southeast Asian rainforest - both for visitors and for the zoo's population of Indonesian primates. We take you on a walk through the exhibit.
Guide Frantisek Susta described the animals in a dark, aquarium-lined room. It holds the tanks of kissing guoranis - fish whose lips are puckered up as if preparing for a smooch - and snake-neck turtles. These animals make up just two of the 100 animal species in the zoo's new exhibit.
The room leads to the sweltering heat and damp air of the pavilion's simulated Indonesian jungle. It also puts the visitor face to face with a Komodo dragon - the world's largest lizard species. Prague Zoo director Petr Fejk says having this highly-endangered animal here shows the warm relations between the Indonesian and Czech governments, because it took the involvement of President Klaus.
"This pavilion is a symbol of the cooperation between Indonesia and the Czech Republic. And the power of this symbol is the Komodo dragon, because we asked the government of Indonesia to get this Komodo dragon - this very endangered animal from Indonesia. There's only one way to get this animal. It's only through the president of the Czech Republic." The path though the exhibit winds visitors past waterfalls and thick, green vegetation, and under towering trees. I found Prague resident Katerina Jouglickova between rows of plants on the top level.
"I think it's something spectacular and beautiful, which I think was a huge gift for us. So I think it's perfect. ... I think I would like to be here on my own and to spend for example one day just to feel the atmosphere and to feel the animals and just to get a little bit closer to the country around here. I would prefer to be here a longer time."
From the top level of the zoo, there is a diverse panorama. Orangutans lounge on one side of a turtle-filled pond. On the other side is the gibbon habitat, but the gibbons seem to have free range. They were hanging on a net on the ceiling above the orangutan cage. It seemed as if they could go wherever they want.
Those were white-handed gibbons, which Petr Fejk says were given special treatment. "
Gibbons inside this pavilion have absolutely luxurious conditions: a big place and also an outside place. We installed there a special net only for gibbons. And one half of the space of the pavilion ... is prepared for gibbon activities. So I think it's absolutely luxurious for this animal."
At a cost of nearly six million euros, the exhibit is a luxury for animals and zoo-goers alike, since Prague residents here said they are sure to come back.
Eric P. Martin