From the Villa Borghese into Bears Valley

After emerging from the Flaminio metro station we headed for the Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s largest and picturesque parks, on what appeared to be a beautiful sunny day that quickly turned dark with luminous clouds.  Among the trees we were at once drenched by an unexpected down pour; we were soaked through with nowhere to hide and not a dry place to step.  The term ‘the skies opened up’ was all too real.  We laughed it off and continued on towards the Zoological Garden of Rome.

Weaving our way through the park we finally arrived at the grand entrance.  Upon entering we were greeted by a large stork who seemed to be standing guard at the giraffe enclosure.  Next was an enclosure full of wet mandrills, many of which were foraging for food while one juvenile came right up to the glass in front of me and licked the raindrops.  It was so cute!

mandrill

mandrill

The first pavilion was the small monkey house.  Here in rich environments full of lush foliage and a rainforest-like atmosphere you’ll find sweet little pygmy marmosets, cottontop and emperor tamarins.  Whether it’s the quick little pygmy marmosets moving around in the blink of an eye, or the emperor tamarin with its oversized mustache your watching, you’ll surely be entertained and feel like you’re transported to the tropical rainforests of South America where these precious little guys call home.

emperor tamarin

emperor tamarin

From the dense heat of Brazil to the island of Japan, the next enclosure housed Japanese macaques.  These monkeys are the only other primate besides humans that live in cold climates and have been known to frequent hot springs in the winter to warm up.  But on this day at Rome’s Bioparco they were rain-soaked, some perched high on their large climbing structure, while some youngsters played tag on ground level between the raindrops.

grey seal training

grey seal training

One thing I always stress is enrichment, and one way to enrich animals is through training.  Training is not only beneficial in regards to enrichment but also allows keepers to monitor the animals’ health as well as helps vets to provide care to the animals without putting them under anesthetic.  So I always relish the opportunity to see training going on while visiting a zoo.  On my visit to Rome’s zoo there was a keeper working with one of their grey seals.  The keeper stood poolside with the seal laying at the edge, and he did target practice with a long baton, and every time the seal did the targeted behaviour the keeper would do a specific check of the seal’s body, blow the whistle and reward the seal with fish.  Then the seal would slightly turn its head and slowly slide backwards into the water.  It was hilarious; it was such a deliberate and comical move, as if the seal became liquid draining back into the water.

The next two enclosures, for the Siberian tigers and the Asiatic lions, were impressive with large spaces, high rock walls, glass – no bars and rich foliage.

seagull chicks

seagull chicks

Then on our way to the next exhibit we stumbled upon a strangely rare sight.  There, just off the path was an all too common seagull but with two small chicks in tow.  I was awe-struck, because until then I’d never realized that though I see seagulls everyday I’d never seen seagull chicks before and here stood two cute little grey powder puffs with speckled heads.  I couldn’t help but stare and smile and think even everyday wildlife can be found in amongst exotic zoo life.

With a serene waterfall cascading into a good-sized pool, rocks and a variety of foliage, the exhibit housing the zoo’s brown bears really stood out for a number of reasons.  The enclosure was well done, offering viewing access from a few different points as well as underwater for when the bears are in the pool.  An important aspect to any exhibit is signage and at the Rome’s Bear Valley exhibit there were two pictures, the first was a shot of a bear tethered among the onlookers and dated 1935, the photo conjures up old, barbaric practices of showcasing animals, the next image is of the Bioparco’s 1999 bear enclosure showing the animal behind the characteristic barred enclosure, then between the past images is the new enclosure shown through glass, an unobstructed view of the bears and demonstrating the progress of modern zoos.

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