It is imagination and flair which make Osnabrück Zoo one of the best of Germany's smaller zoos. Money has clearly been reasonably plentiful, and the collection is certainly not without highlights, but it is the panache with which that collection is displayed which is Osnabrück's hallmark.
For a start, Osnabrück Zoo's entrance is magnificent. It is also the entrance to an adjacent museum complex, and in its impressive grandeur it really does not allow the incoming visitor to believe that he or she is doing anything other than entering an important institution. That good first impression continues once the visitor has passed through the zoo's gates: an attractively landscaped flamingo pond and a simple but effective spider monkey island both look most enticing. Even better is a splendid lion enclosure: moated (with running water providing a harmonious soundtrack to the visitor's perambulation) and located on a sharply sloping piece of hillside, it is one of those enclosures which manage to present an otherwise unremarkable creature in such a way as to remind the jaded zoo-goer that every animal -- even the African lion -- is fascinating. From then on, it is treat after treat. Not all of the zoo is perfect, by any means, but most of it is really very good, and with a massive new exhibit for African ungulates currently under construction it promises to get even better in the future.
For the moment, the zoo's highlight is possibly a compact but attractive South American house, featuring Brazilian tapirs, maned wolves and agoutis on its outside, whilst inside can be seen various marmosets and tamarins, squirrel monkeys, a walk-through aviary and the tapirs' stables. There is nothing extraordinary about the place, save that in its simplicity it has all been put together so very well. The same is true of a combined reptile and amphibian house and aquarium. The species within are not too far different from those which can be seen in countless such houses across Europe, whilst the method of display is mostly fairly conservative. And yet the whole thing is done so very well, so very professionally, that it is lifted above the commonplace.
There's a good cat house too (serval, leopard, Amur tiger) and a monkey house which, if it is not the zoo's best feature, still manages to display a good collection in a thoroughly acceptable fashion: pig-tailed macaques on a large `rock', the rest -- capuchins, vervets, one or two lemur species, black mangabeys -- in standard primate cages.
Chimpanzees, concolor gibbons and orang-utans are all displayed in enclosures which are small but well furnished; African elephants do not do quite so well, but may well be among those species to be rehoused in the zoo's newest development. The same is probably true of the ungulate collection -- defassa waterbuck, white rhino, lowland nyala, addax, Nile lechwe, eland, Grant's zebra -- which, for the moment, is to be seen in a string of simple yards. A good-sized bird collection, one or two enclosures for smaller mammals, a well-done area for European animals, and an ocean of a pool for Californian sea lions pretty much complete what Osnabrück Zoo has to offer -- except for what is surely the zoo's most intriguing exhibit: a bear enclosure -- not big, not small -- in which can be seen four species -- polar, American black, brown and Himalayan -- living side-by-side in apparent harmony. It's an extraordinary enclosure, in an extraordinarily good zoo.