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Under the Moonlight: A Nighttime Safari at the Zoo

Photo by Pixabay

Amelie isn’t sleeping. Her group has already retired to their bunks, but she has observed something unusual. Now she stands in front of the glass pane, looking skeptical. Eye to eye with a female orangutan. Massive shoulders and a penetrating gaze.

At night, the Zoo in Dortmund belongs to the animals. The night watchman, is doing his first round and feeds the animals for the last time. Amelie and the other primates mainly eat vegetables, perhaps a treat to end the day. Medications too, if the animal needs them. Some of the female chimpanzees take the pill. In the past, zoo animals even had to be anesthetized for foot care. Today, there is systematic training at Dortmund Zoo to enable gentler examinations. “When it’s closed, peace reigns, we don’t disturb the animals any further,” says Marcel Stein, head of animal care. “No street sweeper drives through or anything like that.” The busiest time is between 5 and 9 a.m., before opening. That’s when the animals are fed and the cleaning is done. But in the evenings, the animals also have off from their job as ambassadors of their species. Of course, there are exceptions. If a big birth is imminent, for example, animal keepers and vets are on site.

Photo by David Gonzales for Pixabay

It’s 1 a.m. The orangutans have already nodded off. One of them in the hammock. Great apes sleep at night, though not as long or deep as their counterparts on the other side of the glass. A human wouldn’t be able to fall asleep on a high forked branch, like the siamang, a type of gibbon, is trying outside in the enclosure. Only its silhouette is recognizable, blue hour, the moon has risen and bathed the deserted zoo in silvery light. The gibbon yawns.

Nelio dips his head into the water in front of the rhinoceros house. His horn gleams brightly. Asian rhinos love water, so they have a deep pool available. He briefly checks on the other rhinos in the enclosure before heading back out into the night. Unless a thunderstorm is imminent, the animals can come and go as they please, to take advantage of the nighttime coolness instead of sleeping in the stuffy building. “This significantly improves their quality of life. It used to be different when I started learning,” says Marcel Stein who has lived on the premises for 40 years. “If the animals are locked up overnight, they are easier to control, for example, to see if they have eaten.”

The sky in Dortmund has turned ink blue. The dull roar of a lion echoes through the night. Frogs croak, crickets chirp. Over many years, a habitat of its own has developed, which only truly awakens at night when humans have withdrawn. One where the fence surrounding the Humboldt penguins is electrified at night to prevent foxes from staging massacres in the enclosure.

Nocturnal pandas can also be seen. They sit in the treetops grooming themselves, while a peacock sleeps in a nearby tree. The cranes have stood in the water to sleep, so they could hear attackers immediately. Two seals cuddle quietly, one scratches its chin. Everything is more subdued at night. And while the two lion brothers have now snuggled up to each other on a rock to sleep, other animals always remain in a certain state of vigilance. But they get used to the safe life in the zoo, to full board and the protection of the enclosure, and become more serene and relaxed than their counterparts in the wild. Since a guard has been present in the zoo all night and cameras have been installed at sensitive points, break-ins have also become rare. As a dare, intoxicated individuals would sometimes break into the zoo in the past. Once, someone smashed the freezer at the kiosk, and chairs were thrown into ponds. This is not only dangerous for the animals, but also, if they encounter the wrong animals, for the burglars.

Even Freddy the sloth has his peace. He hangs from a branch, lazily turning his head and blinking his button eyes. It sleeps about 20 hours a day, it’s not picky about the exact time. Cockroaches scurry across the floor, and the bats, which just hung like a cocoon in the tree, spread their wings and glide through the air. Across from the rhinoceros house, Nelio dips his trunk into the water again. Perhaps he is ensuring that the human visitors really leave Dortmund and the night belongs to the animals again.

A entrance ticket for the zoo edited by Lambrini Tzitzou on Canva for thecircular.org
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