The plot of land just behind the elephants and the savannah in Artis is still quite a mess. The earth is plowed and strewn with stones and steel cables, bulldozers drive frantically back and forth, building materials are everywhere and men in orange vests are walking.
At the beginning of next year, an amazing lion enclosure should be built here, complete with a tunnel, cave, waterfalls and above all a lot of space. In total, the new residence will cover about 1800 square meters. Compared to this, the current home of the lion trio, the Kerbert Terrace from 1928, with just over 180 square meters, is rightly a tiny house to name.
“They are improving in such a way,” says a delighted Tjerk ter Meulen, who as manager Animal and Plant is primarily responsible for all plants and animals in Artis. The enclosure was designed by landscape architect Thijs de Zeeuw, who also designed the new space for the elephants, and it is somewhat similar to that. “They get grass, sand, water they can mess around in, high vantage points, rocks and all kinds of trees in which we will hang carcasses. Let’s see if they play with that.”
They must have moved before the high season of next year. “That will be very exciting, I have no idea how they will react. The females are ten and eleven years old, the male about six years old. I hope they don’t get too shocked by suddenly so much space around them.” There are no congeners for the time being. “Let’s see how they like it here.”
Last year, the future of the lions looked a lot less rosy, when a one-way ticket to France was booked for them. Artis was in enormous financial trouble due to the corona crisis – the zoo had to close its doors four times due to a lockdown and ran into a million-dollar deficit – so there was no money left for the much-needed new stay.
It was decided that they would be better off in a French animal park. When that deal fell through at the last minute, two anonymous benefactors, a fund and a private individual, decided to sponsor the complete renovation, so that the lions were allowed to stay in Amsterdam forever. There was a sigh of relief from the city. Artis wouldn’t be Artis without a bunch of big cats.
Palms with steel cables
The animals that had to make way for the new lion enclosure have meanwhile been spoiled with a very prominent new place, right in front of the entrance. Where visitors came across the camel field for the past eighty years, there are now algazels, an extinct antelope species from North Africa.
They reside under two knoperds of Chilean honey palms (secured with steel cables, in case of storms). “The camels had died, the cattle were moved to the savannah, the donkeys and reindeer went to other zoos. These are domesticated animals that you also find on, for example, petting zoos, so we think they are less important to show.” Later, meerkats are added, which, like the lions, are now somewhat cramped.
In the meantime, the most radical renovation of Artis is taking place on the south side of the zoo: at the aquarium, which had to close with immediate effect at the beginning of last year. In 138 years, rising salt water has completely affected the structures and facades, making it no longer safe to enter the building. And the aquarium was also leaking.
“We found a puddle of water on the ground floor every morning,” says Eline Danker, Artis Programming & Development Manager. “It was in a really dramatic state, the aquarium was just about to collapse.”
The fish have been moved to other zoos and aquariums, so that the building can now be completely renovated. But where the lions have been helped out thanks to their philanthropists (in fact, the benefactors also raised their wallets for the algazel enclosure and the new use of the Kerbert Terrace), the fish are still in financial difficulties.
“Because it is a national monument, we first have to restore everything to its former glory – for example, we constantly find ornaments behind suspended ceilings, which all need to be restored. This will not only cost a lot of time, but also a lot of money.” In total, Artis takes into account a cost of 46 million. “And we’ve only got half of it now. So exceeding that amount is really not allowed.”