Blijdorp Zoo – Beautiful Creatures in the Urban Jungle of Rotterdam

Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam is a large complex with a huge variety of animals from all over the world…

Blijdorp Zoo is one of Europe’s best zoos. It’s large, ensuring that its many species of animals have plenty of space, and it’s modern – which means the animals are kept in a way that ensures their comfort and respects their privacy while giving visitors the best experience possible.

Big Cats

For us, there is always a few standard “big hits” in every zoo. The big cats, wolves, red pandas and apes (although we often feel conflicted watching them). The big cats are always interesting to watch, especially during feeding time, when they seem to be most active.

One can easily understand why coming face to face with this amazing creature in the wild “may” be quite scary – that gaze is just striking

When I was younger I used to wonder if these majestic creatures, evolved to range over large territories and to hunt tricky prey, are bored in their enclosures. Perhaphs, but I suppose like humans, they probably don’t mind the availibility of food at regular, predictable times. In the past, they used to be kept in boring cages, which was terrible and very stressful for them. These days, their habitats are well taught of and incorporate many elements of their natural environment.

The easiest way to tell leopards from jaguars is by the lack of spots in the middle of their rosettes

This is both great for the cats and for visitors, as we also get to have a clearer sense of how these creatures are, back out in the wild.

A majestic tiger, with a no less majestic set of canines

Among the big cats in Blijdorp are the leopard (distinguished from the jaguar by the absence of spots in the center of its rosettes), the tiger and the lion. The leopard and the tiger are solitary animals and we didn’t see many of them. Probably, like most zoos in Europe that take part in breeding programmes, there was more than one cat in each of their respective enclosures. If so, they were well hidden!

Asian lions are smaller then their African cousins, but beautiful nonetheless

Blijdorp Zoo does have a large family of lions though! Their lions are Asian lions, which are more social than African lions. They are also smaller with thinner manes. I suppose the relative scarcity of food, or perhaps the more competitive enviroment in the regions of Asia these lions are from, result in their smaller size and more cooperative nature.

Red Panda

One of my favrouite animals, without a doubt is the red panda. I guess there’s nothing special about this. The red panda is probably the most adorable creature to have evolved. I love its beautiful, fluffy red coat, its white muzzle (especially when it sticks its tongue out) and its calm, relaxed behaviour.

This red panda was very active, and surprisingly spent most of her time in the more open spaces of her enclosure

The red panda in Blijdorp was not too shy and despite it having quite a lot of foliage to hide in, preferred to stay out where it was easily seen – this is quite unusual for red pandas who like to stay hidden.

In general, red pandas tend to go deeper in the crowns of the trees they live in, making them quite difficult to spot

The red panda is one of the most solitary creatures in the world, with each panda having large home ranges that don’t overlap by much.

This super cute red panda engaged in a staring competition with us for a while

The best time to come view red pandas is in the spring or autumn I think, since that’s when they aren’t too cold or hot. Being either does tend to make the red panda rather lethargic. If it’s too cold, they will prefer to stay curled into a ball, their long, fluffy tail like a scarf around their bodies. Or, if it’s too hot, they splay over a branch under thick foliage, so they are out of the sun and their bodies exposed maximally to the cool, shaded environment.

We would like to think that she was looking for fish in the pond that surrounded her little island, or just admiring the shininess of her fur

When we visited though, it was a nice, sunny but cool day, and the red panda we saw was being quite curious – climbing up and down the trees in her enclosure and investigating the fish in her moat.

Polar Bears

Speaking of thermal regulation – the polar bears were, I though, having a blast cooling off from the sun by diving in and out of their pool. There were two of them, one of which was flufflier and whiter than the other. He was also a lot more playful.

This polar bear, a proper juvenile, was having the time of his life playing with this plastic bucket

His idea of fun was to attack a blue plastic bucket repeatedly – probably the bucket used to deliver his lunchtime ration of fish. When we arrived, a crowd had already gathered to watch his antics.

Upon reading the sign posted beside the glass viewing area, we realise that this polar bear was just slightly over a year old, which explained his silly, excitable behaviour.

The older polar bear, a mum, was way calmer and more dignified than her playful offspring

He was great fun to watch. I’m not sure he was aware of the attention he was attracting, but ocassionally, he would swim really close to the glass where children had their face pressed against, and place his paw on it. It was quite eye opening to see that paw up close and how large and powerful it was!

Wolves & Foxes

Wolves are probably the animal with the most myths and legends associated with them. This is not surprising. After all, man’s best friend, the dog, evolved from the same ancestor as the wolf. Man and wolf most certainly have a shared history that goes back tens of thousands of years.

A beautiful wolf, resting on the rock that is the highest point of their expansive enclosure

Like humans, wolves are social creatures. This made it possible for the their ancestors, and ours to co-evolve. This shared pre-history is recorded in our myths and legends, and that’s the reason why wolves still play a big role in contemporary culture today. The Direwolves from Game of Thrones are probably the most recent example that comes to mind.

The wolf enclosure in Blijdorp Zoo is really quite big, allowing them space for a proper run and chase

Besides that of course, there’s something simply majestic and powerful about these beautiful creatures that make their appeal so strong for us.

Two beautiful foxes enjoying their afternoon nap, bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun

Although also decended from a similar ancestor, foxes have less of a positive role in our societies. While wolves are often though of as brave, majestic and loyal, foxes are often portrayed as sly and slippery creatures. In part, this is because foxes have plagued mankind ever since we bagan domesticaing animals. But since I’m not a farmer, I don’t have any negative associations with foxes. For me, they could almost be another type of cute dog.

Reptiles & Birds

Rotterdam Zoo also has an extensive reptile house with reptiles from all over the world. To be honest, I don’t find reptiles that fascinating to watch, probably because they aren’t as active as mammals. But this is really unfair, since reptiles also have really interesting evolutionary histories and some truly fascinating behaviours.

We are really not sure what exact type of lizard this is, it reminded us of the gila monster, but it is very cute in any case

For example, did you know that the gila monsters, native to the USA, are monogamous and mate for life, exhibiting signs of distress when their partner dies?

One of the many types of iguanas, always appearing so deliberate and careful in their movements

Or, that the crocodile is capable of going for over a year without food. Simply by sitting still in the water, like a dead log, they can conserve energy for many months, not having to feed during this time.

This crocodile was engaged in their favourite pastime – basking under the hot lamps

Reptiles are one of the oldest branches on the tree of life, from which mammals, dinosaurs and birds evolved. There are also two distinct groups of modern reptiles, with lizards and snakes in one and crocodiles in the other. Interestingly, crocodiles are on the same branch as the dinosaurs.

This cobra was unusually active, moving about her enclosure and showing off

In recent times, its been discovered that dinosaurs, such as the famous velociraptor from Jurassic Park, were feathered. We now know that modern birds are actually living dinosaurs. Of course, not all dinosaurs were feathered.

Just one of the many pelicans to be found in the large bird pond in Blijdorp

Looking at some of the large birds in Rotterdam zoo, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine them a little bigger and a little more ferocious – and a little more like a dinosaur from the past.

Apes & Monkeys

Personally, I always feel conflicted when viewing exhibits with monkeys or apes in them. If the monkeys are small enough, like squirrel monkeys or vervet monkeys, I don’t feel too bad about it, if they are given ample space and an enclosure with lots of interesting stimulus.

I am really not quite sure if he did this on purpose 🙂

With the apes though, it’s always difficult – I find that they are far too much like humans for me to feel comfortable watching them in captivity.

A solitary monkey, seemingly enjoying a moment of peace, away from the rest of his family

The monkeys and apes in Blijdorp Zoo do have ample space and interesting enclosures, and you can observe them behaving quite naturally in their environments. Sometimes it’s almost a little disconcerting to observe just how similar they are to us in behaviour.

This gorilla was lost in thought, perhaps a little angry, or just worried – I wish I could tell what was going through his mind

The gorillas and chimps I feel are the ones that come closest to how humans are. I often feel myself wondering what’s going on in their heads as they gaze out into the distance over the visitors looking at them on the other side of the glass.


Also, finally, not to be missed are several smallish enclosures containing various cute, fluffy mammals. Not to be missed are the prairie dogs. Blijdorp’s prairie dogs are a real hit with adults and children alike. Their enclosure isn’t really an enclosure, and the animals are allowed to roam freely, even onto the pathway.

These prairie dogs are incredibly cute and you will be their best friend if you were to offer some of that juicy grass that grows just across from their enclosure

They seldom do this, however, and tend to prefer to stay really close to their dens. For an up close and personal experience, you can crawl into a tunnel dug under their mound of sand and stick your head up in the middle of their plot of land.

There’s also a racoon exhibit. These creatures are truly amusing to watch, and we had a lot of fun observing them try to perform various tasks while we were there. One of them involved the entire troop getting from the lower end of the enclosure to the upper end, which was separated by some obstacles. It was fun to watch how they helped each other as they went about this task.

Observing a gaze of racoons (that is actually the proper name for a group of them), being adorable and silly at the same time, never gets boring – we can literally spend hours by their enclosure

Overall, Rotterdam Zoo is a really nice and large zoo that is constantly getting better with regular updates to their enclosures. Another plus is that they are part of a larger EU breeding program for many endangered species – we’ve sadly never seen any new borns while we were there, but a quick look at their webpage tells us they have them quite regularly! We would highly recommend visiting the zoo if you’re in the Netherlands.

Life moves at absolutely different speeds for these two beautiful creatures 🙂

Here are all the photographs we took at Blijdorp: