An interactive replica of a Cameroon forest now houses gorillas in Prague

The zoo's new pavilion is an immersive experience for visitors with sights and sounds of Central Africa plus an array of wildlife.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 29.09.2022 11:16:00 (updated on 29.09.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

Prague Zoo opened its new gorilla pavilion on Sept. 28. The Dja Reserve, the largest pavilion in the zoo’s history, is named for a region in Cameroon, where the zoo has been active in conservation.

Visitors journey through a replica of a forest in Cameroon, where they will encounter lowland gorillas as well as marmots, black-and-white colobuses, and bats. A new pair of gorillas was introduced to the public, male Kisumu and female Duni, the daughter of the famous Moja. Kisumu arrived from Schmiding Zoo in Austria on Sept. 1 and Duni arrived from Spain on Sept. 17.

The new pavilion was ceremoniously opened by Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek, in the presence of representatives of City Hall representatives, well-known personalities, and foreign guests.

"If someone had told me a few months ago that when the Reserve Dja was opened, we would be watching a new breeding male here and his bonding with the daughter of the legendary Moja, I would not have believed it," Bobek said. Moja was the first lowland gorilla born in captivity in the Czech Republic, in 2004. She was relocated to Spain in 2011 for breeding purposes.

"And now we stand here together and the great story of the Prague gorilla family officially continues before the eyes of the visitors," Bobek said.

In addition to the gorilla family, which will be the biggest draw, many other representatives of the Central African species can be seen in the Dja Reserve. Some are returning to the Prague Zoo after a very long time. The De Brazza's monkey, with a distintive orange scalp, will be seen after a break of more than half a century.

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib said Prague Zoo is one of the best in the world. “We want to keep it at the top in the future. That is why we invest in its development. In addition to the most modern gorilla pavilion in the world … we are also preparing a new Arctic pavilion. I thank director Bobek for the preparation and implementation of this project," Hřib said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Football player Karel Poborský was also present at the ribbon cutting as the patron of the Traveling Bus project in Cameroon, one of Prague Zoo’s ongoing conservation efforts.

Conservationists from Cameroon in the replica classroom. Photo: Prague Zoo..
Conservationists from Cameroon in the replica classroom. Photo: Prague Zoo..

People from Cameroon who collaborate with Prague Zoo in educational and rescue projects in the real Dja Biosphere Reserve journeyed to the Czech Republic for the pavilion opening. "It is amazing that such a well-thought-out and spectacular display of Cameroonian nature has been created in the middle of Europe. Personally, I was most impressed by the authentic African classroom," Manfred E. Aimé, director of Tropical Forest and Rural Development, said.

"For me, it is a reaffirmation of the commitment that the Prague Zoo has to the protection of biodiversity, as well as the diligence of its individual workers," he added.

This is the zoo’s 15th pavilion. Inside, visitors are guided through the Cameroonian landscape from a school and an agricultural area on the edge of the local village, to the dense rainforest full of vegetation, sounds, and animals. A new entrance to the Prague Zoo also opened, in close proximity to the Sklenářka bus stop.

The idea to start preparing and promoting this project came after the floods that hit the lower part of the Prague Zoo in June 2013. In the summer of the same year, Bobek picked a place where the pavilion could stand. “It had to fulfill two main conditions – to have a favorable microclimate and to enable the construction of a sufficiently large building and paddocks. This corresponded to the overgrown terrain depression below Sklenářka, at the end of the giraffe enclosure,” Bobek said previously.

Studies were drawn up and a design was presented in 2015, but the zoo faced with objections from nearby residents that it had to respond to before the city would approve the plan. The pavilion project was greatly aided by an anonymous donation of EUR 4 million in 2017, but it still just remained on the drawing board.

People take pictures at the opening of the new pavilion.  Photo: Prague Zoo.
People take pictures at the opening of the new pavilion. Photo: Prague Zoo.

“After all the delays, we finally started building in October 2019,” he said, adding that construction was not easy as it was not a typical structure. The Covid pandemic added additional complications to construction work.

“This year in April, we got the desired approval and we were able to start finishing work and settling the pavilion with animals,” he said.

Before the pavilion opened, British zoo expert and evaluator Anthony Sheridan went through it twice.

“Congratulations on a truly magnificent gorilla pavilion – it's the best I've ever seen in terms of a truly immersive experience for visitors. The link between the pavilion and the Dja Reserve in Cameroon is very well presented and the exhibition has an immense benefit in informing visitors about the need to protect animals in their habitat,” he said.

“Notable features of the indoor exhibit include special multi-layered glass windows that keep the gorillas from being disturbed by the sounds of visitors, while visitors can hear the gorillas! Another great feature is the sounds of the forest. I believe this groundbreaking pavilion will generate interest and help other zoos looking to invest in new and improved gorilla and other primate breeding facilities,” he added.

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