While it is not the oldest, biggest or most well-known zoo in Germany, Wuppertal Zoo is definitely worth a visit. Its unique setting makes for some interesting enclosures and successful breeding programs mean there is always something new to see. Here’s what you need to know before you visit, why you should go and what you really don’t want to miss.
Official Name: Zoologischer Garten der Stadt Wuppertal (Zoological Garden of the City of Wuppertal). AKA Der Grüne Zoo Wuppertal (The Green Zoo Wuppertal).
Address: Hubertusallee 30, 42117 Wuppertal
Website: https://www.wuppertal.de/microsite/zoo/index.php (only in German)
Opening times: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during Winter. Open every day except Christmas Day.
Ticket prices: EUR 18.50 for adults, EUR 16.50 for concession. Children aged 6 to 14 pay only EUR 1.70. Children under 6 are free.
A brief history: how Wuppertal Zoo became the green zoo
The State of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany has the highest concentration of zoos in the smallest area in the world. It has 12 main zoos in just over 34,000 square km, as well as numerous privately-owned animal parks. We are spoilt for choice
Wuppertal Zoo – officially the Zoological Garden of the City of Wuppertal – is not the oldest, but is one of the oldest in Germany. The zoo officially opened on 8 September 1881 and is frequently voted one of the best zoos in Germany.
The park was designed by garden designer Heinrich Siesmayer and is still considered one of the most beautiful landscape zoos. Large, ancient beech and maple trees provide shade and are the reason the zoo is known as “The Green Zoo Wuppertal”. Other trees include sequoias (known as mammoth trees – these are planted near the elephant enclosure), sycamores, Japanese cherry trees, Paulownia trees, handkerchief trees, araucaria and gunnera. This also makes it a wonderful zoo to visit in summer.
As it updates the various enclosures, the zoo is working hard to ensure that the new enclosures fit in well and take advantage of the existing landscape. In fact, the Green Zoo was the first – and currently, only -zoo to be included European Garden Heritage Network. It is also going green and moving to CO2 neutral energy production for all the Zoo’s needs.
A small disclaimer
As you know from past posts about Munich, Berlin, Burgers Zoo, Verona and Cologne, we love a good zoo. Wuppertal Zoo is our local zoo and we have annual tickets and are members of the Zoo Association. However, this is not a sponsored post: all our views are our own. We really love this zoo and would visit it even if it wasn’t the closest zoo for us.
What you need to know before you visit Wuppertal Zoo
A visit to the Wuppertal Zoo is a great workout. Seriously.
Wuppertal literally means Wupper Valley. You can probably imagine that the zoo is not flat. In fact, there is a difference of 100m in elevation between the highest and lowest areas of the zoo – and that does not count the walk up the hill from the Schwebebahn or the car parks.
When Miss M was very small, I started taking her to the zoo regularly. She would look at a few animals, then obligingly fall asleep, leaving me to work on my cardio as I pushed her stroller up and down and around the zoo. If you really want to work on your glutes, walk the stretch from the apes to the elephants between the wolf enclosure and the restaurant, or from the tigers to the lions. The latter is quite steep and difficult if you are pushing a wheelchair.
If you are visiting with a small child, make sure you take a stroller or a little wagon. There are some wagons to rent, but these are first in, first served (and aren’t available for hire at the moment due to COVID restrictions).
As with everywhere in Germany at the moment, there are rules and restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
To visit the Wuppertal Zoo, you must book your ticket online and reserve a time slot for your entrance to the zoo.
All animal houses are currently closed, feeding times and keeper talks are cancelled to prevent groups of people from gathering. Throughout the zoo, there are signs and arrows and markers on the ground to encourage and remind visitors to maintain social distancing. In some places, such as the toilets, face masks are compulsory. Children playing on the playground are even required to wear a mask (though many do not).
As with many things, the rules may change at short notice. Mask wearing may become compulsory throughout the zoo and there may be further closures. Please check the website for updates.
As with any zoo, there are some animals you just don’t want to miss. For ease, we’ll look at them in the order that you will see them if you follow the recommended zoo loop.
Aralandia is the newest enclosure at Wuppertal Zoo. It is a large aviary, purpose-built to look like a wing in motion from above, for the hyacinth macaws, red-fronted macaws and blue-throated macaws, as well as flamingos and pudus.
Unfortunately, COVID restrictions have meant that the exclosure could not be officially opened. At the moment, the birds have moved in, but it is still closed to the public. Miss M can’t wait to be able to go in and see them up close – though she got to have a face-to-face chat with two of the macaws during our last visit.
Aralandia leads its field and is known as a Hochzeitsvoliere or wedding aviary. The macaws wear collars to allow the keepers to electronically track which macaws are spending time with one another. When two are thought to be interested in mating, they can withdraw from the public eye to, hopefully, mate.
Penguins are the emblem of the zoo and, in some ways, the city.
Wuppertal has two penguin enclosures and three types of penguins – Gentoo penguins, African penguins and king penguins.
The Gentoo and king penguin enclosure was built to celebrate the 125th birthday of the zoo. When it was built, the enclosure was one of the largest and most modern penguin enclosures in Europe. It is sealed to protect the penguins from bacteria (as Antarcticans, they are very susceptible), an ice machine and a 15-metre long tunnel to view the penguins underwater.
The penguin program at the Wuppertal Zoo is also quite successful, with numerous fuzzy brown penguins born each year.
The Gentoo penguins, in particular, are very inquisitive. Miss M loves chatting with them and seeing what they might like from her zoo bag of food (don’t worry, they are behind glass and cannot be fed).
The Himalaya enclosure, which houses the snow leopards, opened in 2017 after the birds of prey enclosure was renovated.
It is based on the Himalayan habitat of the snow leopards: a mountain village was destroyed by a rock avalanche and abandoned by the locals, leaving it open for nature and the leopards to move in and take over. The new enclosure even has an adventure pathway and Tibetan prayer flags for effect.
Miss M loves the snow leopards mostly because they are next to the red pandas – for now.
In 2007, the railway line between Elberfeld and Cronenberg was abolished and the track became a public cycle track. The “Tiger Valley Bridge” was elevated above the zoo and an additional four hectares of land on the other side of the former track were added to the zoo. Most of this area now makes up the tiger and lion enclosures.
The lion enclosure is the largest lion enclosure in Germany and one of the largest in Europe. It has two large feeding areas with public viewing, a tower that looks over the enclosure and a tunnel that comes up to a viewing window within the enclosure. These are quite cool, but not stroller-friendly…
There is nothing particularly spectacular about the elephant enclosure at the Wuppertal Zoo. It is quite large and has an indoor and outdoor area – fairly standard stuff.
However, the elephants must be particularly happy here – the breeding program is very successful. In fact, according to a recent press release, it is the most successful program in Europe. A young bull was born in 2019, followed by the birth of not one, but two elephants (one male, one female) in 2020. Unfortunately, these births occurred during Corona lockdowns, so the public couldn’t meet the newest additions to the herd until later.
We were not expecting any news of new pregnancies for a while because the old, experienced bull elephant (Tusker) was recently replaced by a younger bull (Tooth). This is done to ensure diversity within the herd. However, we just heard a couple of weeks ago that Tooth is going to become a father for the first time – one of the elephants is pregnant. A pregnancy normally lasts 22 months, so we are not expecting the sound of little elephant feet until the end of 2022 or the start of 2023.
If your child is anything like Miss M, one of the things that she always likes to see when we visit the Wuppertal Zoo is the zoo babies.
Of course, there are new youngsters born regularly at most zoos. The Wuppertal Zoo is particularly famous for its successful breeding programs for seals, penguins and elephants, which we of course have to visit regularly. Recent births of other animals include an okapi or forest giraffe, a white-hand gibbon, twin ibex, a reindeer and a babirusa.
New developments to look forward to
Like most zoos, there are always things growing and changing at the zoo to make it a better experience for the public and the animals.
One of the big things to look out for at the Wuppertal Zoo is of course the official opening of Aralandia. While the animals are in the enclosure, we can’t wait until we will have a chance to enter the enclosure and have the macaws fly around us.
Currently, zoo staff are constructing a new, larger enclosure for the red pandas. It will have a stream and trees and even includes a pathway for kids and is due to open later this year.
Of course, the question then is what will happen to the enclosure where the red pandas currently reside – and the adjacent enclosure which is also empty.
Wuppertal Zoo currently has one polar bear, Anori, which it is looking to rehouse at another zoo (the second polar bear, Luca, has already been rehoused at Yorkshire Wildlife Park). Once Anori has found a new home, the sealion enclosure will be expanded to take over the current polar bear enclosure. What it will then look like, or when the plans will be implemented, is not yet known.
The 10-year plan: 150th birthday of the Wuppertal Zoo
Finally, the zoo’s friends and supporters foundation, Zoo-Verein Wuppertal e.V., has announced its plans to build a new enclosure, Pulau Buton. Named after the Indonesian island, the new enclosure will be a home for the oriental small-clawed otters, white-hand gibbons, babirusa and Visayan spotted deer. Work was planned to start after the completion of Aralandia, another project that the foundation spearheaded. There have been no recent announcements about Pulau Buton; presumably, zoo closures due to the pandemic have resulted in delays.
Palau Buton is still going ahead – but not quite as first envisaged: Better! This was confirmed when the Zoo released its 10-year plan in May.
One of the big projects for the next 10 years is the construction of a new South-East Asian Rainforest complex. It will be home to various endangered animals like the babirusa, gibbons and otters as well as various birds, fish and reptiles. All animals should have an indoor and an outdoor area and can choose where they want to be. Pulau Buton will form the outdoor area for some of these animals.
The other area getting a revamp is the elephant enclosure. it will be transformed into an African savanna with various areas. Additional areas will also be added to the indoor area for the elephant bull.
The Wuppertal Zoo has two kiosks that sell snacks and drinks (coffee, cold drinks, ice creams, chocolate bars), as well as a restaurant, Okavango.
Okavango is located between the large ape house and the elephants. If the elephants are out in their lower yard, you can sit and watch them while you eat – a great distraction for young children.
The menu is simple, with soup, fish and chips, chips and sausages or schnitzels, pasta with a variety of sauces and salad bowls. A daily special and vegetarian meals are also available. Prices are quite fair and cheaper than they are at many zoos. For afternoon tea, there is coffee and cake available, and during school holidays and on weekends there are often Flammkuchen and waffles on a stick available too.
Inside the building are disabled toilets and baby change facilities, as well as a microwave for warming babies’ bottles, etc.
The Zoo Shop
The zoo shop is smaller and not as packed as the shops we have encountered at many zoos. They have a range of stuffed toys, especially the ones resembling their star attractions, and a good range of books (mostly in German).
The Wuppertal Zoo has (or had) an animal art program, where trained staff worked with some of the animals to make artwork. This artwork is also sold at the zoo shop. For my birthday, Peter and Miss M gifted me this piece by the otters.
Any good zoo has playgrounds: Wuppertal Zoo has three.
One is near the tigers. It’s geared towards younger visitors and has a small hut and large sandpit, with water features, which are great in summer.
The second has a swing and a wide slide that multiple children can use at once. It’s next to Okavango and is a nice distraction while you are waiting for food.
The third is the oldest and largest of the playgrounds – Peter remembers playing there as a child – can be found next to the kangaroos and guinea pigs. Now the former arena is a huge sandpit. There are some buckets and spades, but you might want to bring your own if your child is not good at sharing or waiting. This playground also has swings, a house and several slides – one of which is high and very fast and only suitable for older children (and not those who are faint of heart). During our last visit, we noticed that another area – we think one designed for smaller children – is being installed at the playground.
Miss M’s favourite is the suspension bridge over part of the lake. I try and avoid it if I can.
Getting to Wuppertal Zoo
The best way to get to the zoo is with the Schwebebahn of course! The Schwebebahn is the suspension railway that is unique to Wuppertal. There is even a combi ticket available.
The Schwebebahn and the zoo actually have an interesting connection. In 1950, a circus director decided to take one of the circus elephants on the Schwebebahn as a publicity stunt. The elephant was called Tuffi. Partway through the trip (between Alter Markt and Adlerbrücke), the elephant fell from the train into the Wupper river below, suffering only minor injuries. Tuffi has become quite a celebrity in Wuppertal with lots of elephant souvenirs available. Of course, when the zoo was looking for a name for one of its baby elephants, Tuffi was the perfect fit.
Unfortunately, the Schwebebahn is only running on the weekend at the present. On other days, you will have to travel by S-Bahn, bus or private vehicle. There is ample (free) parking available.
Elephants, penguins and macaws. Oh my!
Despite not being the oldest, biggest or most well-known zoo in Germany, Wuppertal Zoo still has much to share with its visitors. The unique setting makes for some interesting enclosures and a good workout. And there is never a shortage of new animals to see.