As I mentioned in my fox post a few weeks ago I recently enjoyed a visit to the Zoo Ohrada at Hluboka Nad Vltavou. The Zoo is one of the oldest in the Czech Republic, it is also the smallest. The Zoo can be found next to a hunting chateau of the Schwarzenberg family and was created to complement the hunting activities of its owner. Thus it has always had a focus on European wild animals, something that continues to this day – two thirds of all the animals there are European.
You approach the zoo down a double avenue of oak trees leading up to the chateau, on your right is a vast lake, with the town and castle of Hluboka on the far shore. The castle, which will get its own blog post some day, was created in the 19th century architectural style of Tudor Gothic – think Windsor Castle in white and you get the idea and sits on a headland overlooking the town and the river Vltava. I can think of no more beautiful setting for a zoo than this one, however the size of the zoo (limited by the island on which the zoo sits) does have its limitations. The smallness makes it less tiring for families with small children, who certainly love it there, but it limits the size of the animal enclosures too.
I have very mixed feelings about zoos, I am not a ban-all-zoos purist but I do think that animals should be kept in conditions that at least approximate to their natural conditions. It seems to me that some animals seem more able to handle captivity and it is not always the obvious ones either. The other Czech zoo I have visited is the one in Prague and which I think works well, using the hilly landscape of the zoo to full effect, giving space and variety of terrain to the animals. At Hlubloka there are signs that they are trying to improve things, including creating new enclosures , but the Zoo is restricted by its size and flat landscape.
As I said above, the Zoo Ohrada specialises in European wild animals and this was one reason why I wanted to go. The display panels for Czech animals were labelled with a CZ, the background colour of which indicating the rarity/endangeredness of the animal in question – white common, red in gravest danger. There was a wide range of water birds and birds of prey, especially owls. One of the best sections was one entitled Czech Woodland, this walk-through enclosure was a miniature wood with all those birds I normally hear but never see. Even then I didn't see all of them, but I did see quite a few.
The place was heaving with children who were clearly loving it. My party was made up of a group of water colourists, who went off painting the animals, so I resorted to taking photographs, which is as far as my visual art talents go. Here are a few to give you the feel of the place.