Panda and polar bear pavilion plans unveiled

The zoo will be undertaking two large building projects in the near term

Prague Zoo showed designs for new pavilions for polar bears and pandas. The zoo has been trying to borrow pandas from China for some time now, and a formal request for them is about to be made.

The Arctic Pavilion will have three parts for polar bears, seals and northern species of birds. The polar bear exhibit will have female and male runs. Its main attraction will be an underwater tunnel that allows visitors to watch polar bears as they swim and dive. The total cost will be about Kč 150 million.

The current space for the polar bears dates back to the zoo's early days. “During the past 80 years, the view of what the polar bears need has completely changed. The existing space that was built in the 1930s is totally unsatisfactory. It is also oriented to the southeast, so the sun is very bright. This is absolutely bad for polar bears,” zoo director Miroslav Bobek said at a press conference. The new pavilion will face north.

In the new space, visitors will be able to see the polar bears in the summer, while currently, they stay mostly indoors in warm weather. The new pavilion will stand in an area that is not now used.

Seals will be next to the polar bears and will also be able to use the tunnel. The seals will have beaches and islands and several pools.

Negotiations with China are at a stage where an official request from the Czech Republic will soon be made to the Chinese president for the pandas.

If Prague Zoo fails to get the giant pandas, other Asian bears will live in the planned panda pavilion. But Bobek made it clear that getting pandas is the ultimate goal.

The new pavilion for giant pandas and golden snub-nose monkeys will be at the location of the current polar bear exhibit. There will also be a Chinese restaurant overlooking the city. The cost of the pavilion is Kč 200 million. “A giant panda is a challenge for us. It brings a certain prestige to the zoo and it is, of course, visually appealing. But most of all, for us, the panda is a symbol of nature conservation, which we focus on very intensely,” Bobek said.

The outdoor enclosure will be hilly with grass and vegetation to help keep the area cooler. Pandas will also have a paddling pool and a brook. The indoor areas will ensure that the pandas have privacy.

Next to the pandas will be space for golden snub-nose monkeys. Prague Zoo will be the only one outside of Asia to have them. The winning design also includes climbing structures for them.

Building permits for new pavilions could be completed by the end of 2019, but there could be delays if there are objections from local authorities in the Troja district, Bobek said on Facebook.

The district has been opposing a new gorilla pavilion that would protect the primates from flooding by moving them to a safer space. The zoo still hopes to prevail over the objections.

The zoo recently welcomed its 60 millionth visitor since it opened 86 years ago. In 1931, when it opened just 20,000 people visited. Last year that grew to 1,448,353 people in a single year.

Prague Zoo was ranked the fourth-best in the world by users of the travel site TripAdvisor in July 2015.

Last year saw the birth of two baby elephants. Other births last year included an aardvark, a giraffe, a gorilla, a viper, a rare giant rat and a rare African openbill. The zoo saw a total of 1,191 juveniles in 223 species.

Prague Zoo currently covers 58 hectares with 50 hectares used for exhibits. It has over 4,700 animals from 681 species, including 144 species listed as threatened. The zoo has 12 pavilions and over 150 exhibits. It has been particularly active in the preservation of the Przewalski's horses, which are slowly being returned to the wild.

The zoo as of May 31 is entirely non-smoking.

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