THE SAVANNA IN AFRICA AND IN ROTTERDAM ZOOby Lex Noordermeer
This year it really happened: after the mayor of Rotterdam, mr Aboutaleb, officially openened the savanna on July 8th, at last Rotterdam Zoo has its African savanna with giraffes, antilopes, zebras, ostriches and before long spotted hyenas, servals and Colobus monkeys. But what exactly is a savanna and what is going on there?
The savanne is one of the most characteristic landscapes of Africa. We associate Africa with a vast rolling grassland dotted with trees or bushes and many animals like giraffes, big herds of antilopes and zebras, ostriches and a hungry African wild dog. As a matter of fact that image harmonizes fairly well. However, the population of the African steppe differs somewhat per region. The savanna regions in Africa cover a vast part of the continent surrounding the rainforests of Central-Africa.
The East African savannas have to put up with an annual precipitation of 24 inches. The soil is poor but water restores fresh gras and leaves, a necessity for large groups of animals. Herds of zebras and wildebeasts cover vast distances to arrive in time there where food is. Many of us will have seen the impressive images of thousands of wildebeasts on their expedition to find food crossing rivers in which crocodiles are waiting for them.
The savanna consists mainly of grassland with bushes and low trees, bolders, kopjes and hills. Thorny trees and bushes try to defend themselves from the gluttony of the many hungry animals. But they all have their tricks to reach the lusty leaves; giraffes with their long necks use their very long tongues to graze the highest trees, bigger antilopes like gerenuks and kudus graze at half height and the dik-diks nibble the lowest bushes. Amidst all those plants, trees, bolders and rocks the special baobabs (monkey bread trees) are characteristic for the image of the African savanna.
elephants and termites
With our new African savanna Rotterdam Zoo has tried to give an impression of the real African savanna despite all sorts of limitations. First of all there is the limited room in Rotterdam Zoo. Creating extra space e.g. by moving the stables of the kudus and Mhorr gazelles a few yards appeared to be impossible because of the status of Rotterdam Zoo being nominated a national as well as a municipal monument. Nevertheless we found sufficient space for our reticulated giraffes, greater kudus and Chapman zebras. The Ďbanditsí of the savanna are represented by spotted hyenas. The beautiful black-and-white colobus and the small African wildcat: the serval are housed in a kopje-enclosure. At first we planned to have the rare Mhorr gazelles accompanying the giraffes on the savanna but at second thoughts we changed plans. The Mhorrs will stay were they are and before long Thomsonís gazelles will join the giraffes and kudus on the savanna.
With water courses and rocky river beds we keep the animals within the bounds, those barriers will also be seen in the savanna in Africa. For the crocodiles that are native in the African savanna we built a lovely heated glass house (the Crocodile River), in every respect they are part of the savanna. A footbridge starting at the crocodile river and gradually rising is visualizing the connection between these parts of the savanna. Visitors following this bridge are walking via the new giraffe-house and the baobab across the savanne and will have a special view on the savanna animals.
Already during the official opening of the Savanne the kudus -as expected- smoothly crossed the rocky river beds to visit the giraffes. And within a few days, ďagainst the rulesĒ the giraffes Fehari and Tipsy were spotted on the kudu enclosure heartily nibbling the bark from the unprotected trees there.
Time will show whether the barriers that have since been broadened will be sufficient to keep the giraffes on their own half.
translated article Blijdorp Blad 3 - fall 2009