Stephan Hering-Hagenbeck: “Here in Moscow Zoo we have a great example of natural scientists working under the same roof in a close cooperation in the zoo”.
At the beginning of the XX century Carl Hagenbeck, founder of the Hagenbeck Tierpark in Hamburg, made a breakthrough in zoo world. He developed a fundamentally new type of enclosure: since then, enclosures imitated natural environment, animals were kept in mixed expositions, and cages grew out of use. This lead to improvement of animals lives, and therefore resulted in better exposing. Sixth generation Hagenbeck, Stefan Hering-Hagenbeck, former director of the Hagenbeck Tierpark, nowadays, in accordance with family tradition, develops architectural designs for zoos. He is a great friend of the Moscow Zoo and often visits us here. We took an opportunity to talk to him about zoos.
How you can characterize Moscow zoo?
I am always impressed by the large amount and variety of rare species on display and within the collection of Moscow Zoo. A lot of these species are not only professionally managed, but also successfully bred at Moscow Zoo. For example today I saw opposite of the guest-house two red-crowned crane chicks.
But there are also a lot of other examples where Moscow Zoo has been the first captive breeding institution or breed rare species regularly. This is a large and very important contribution to the ex-situ conservation of highly endangered species within the international zoo community.
A lot of the professional zoo staff of Moscow Zoo reaches really good results under not always easy conditions (e.g. the extreme winters in Moscow). It is definitely harder to breed some species here, than in other parts of the world. This results in a lot of respect within the international zoo community in the great work Moscow Zoo has done in the past and is currently doing.
How should modern zoo look like?
I think the modern zoo still has the same main goal as zoos in the past. It is presenting animals in order to inspire people about the beauty of nature.
Modern zoos, however, should do it this with all possible modern techniques, in order to really achieve this goal present.
I believe that the most important reason why we keep the animals in captivity is to use the animal as an ambassador of the often highly endangered and remaining animals in the wild. The animal should have a habitat in the zoo (meaning the exhibit) where it can show as much of its natural behavior as possible. If we manage this, we can reach our goal, that only what we know, we can love! And only what we love, we will protect!
What will you tell people who demand to close zoos down?
I believe that zoos are becoming more and more important in our fully human environment. Humans are in the process of losing their understanding of nature and natural processes. As a biologist I can see that in our days the distance to nature is increasing. We are on our way to live in Megacities where a child has no contact to any animals anymore (in spite of maybe a domestic dog or cat).
So I strongly believe that the zoo is the only place where nature education can take place and a true identification with nature and natural processes can take place. Also for me this is very worrying, but I believe it is the truth. Watching film is surely not enough because it is always the interpretation of filmmaker. Even a good film is an interpretation. Authors decide what to show and what not to show.
Having a long time experience as a director of a zoo myself I can give you an example. A rising number of visitors are complaining that we feed our carnivores with meat (rabbits, mice, chickens, rats, etc.). In Western Europe the vegan cat and dog-food industry is continuously growing since quite a while! This shows me how far we are already away from nature; on the other hand it motivates me as a zoo director and zoo designer to do my job!
In a zoo you can observe animals and their behavior. You can experience animals with all senses, how they smell, how they interact, you can hear them live. Zoos are the closest and most authentic way to experience nature in a city environment. And due to the fact that many animals are getting more and more endangered, zoos are also playing a very important role in conservation.
And finally it is not affordable for the most of the people to get to the place where these animals live. And obviously the last remaining intact biotopes could not take, even the citizens of one international big city, like for instance Moscow. Imagine for e.g. 15 million people traveling into the few remaining primary rain forests of Sumatra or Borneo in order to see the last orangutans.
And what will you tell people who complain about zoos in the centers of the cities which doesn’t have big area?
A “big area” is a relative and very subjective term. Obviously there are some large animals that need a lot of space, for example blue whale or an albatross. But a lot people say that for e.g. lions do not have enough space in a zoo. But lions in wild do not really move a lot around if they don’t have to. They are like humans.
I have lived for 10 years in Africa and I know what I am talking about. If lion has killed a giraffe and there are no other prides around and water is available, then it will stay at the carcass as long as it can feed on it. There is no reason for lion to walk far distance if he is not forced to do so.
The large migration of zebras and wildebeest in the Serengeti does not happen because the like to walk thousands of kilometers. They are annually following their water and food source.
In conclusion habitat of a zoo animal surely has to have an appropriate size but the structure and the environmental as well as behavioral enrichment are certainly of the same importance, in order that the animal can behave in its natural way.
Are there animals that can’t live in zoos?
I am zoo person and I believe that any animal could theoreticallyan be kept in a zoo environment. But there are certainly some animals, which are currently not kept in zoos due to different reasons. In most cases it is due to costs, as their husbandry and exhibits would be to elaborate and cost intensive.
For example, animals that are highly specialized with their food. Others are to large and their exhibits would cost a fortune or the space would not be available. And finally there are species we currently still do not have enough basic knowledge of, their biology and their life cycles. In a lot of cases this is the limiting factor of keeping a certain species in a zoo environment.
Therefore we have to work close together with natural sciences. Here in Moscow Zoo we have a great example of natural scientists working under the same roof in a close cooperation in the zoo.