The zoo must be like the Red Queen - to keep in the same place, it must run - says the president of the Wroclaw zoo, and he consistently implements this idea. Five years have passed since the opening of the Afrykarium. What has changed during this time?
The idea of the world's first themed oceanarium came to the president of the Wrocław zoo - Radosław Ratajszczak, during a business trip, somewhere between Belgium and the Netherlands. It took 5 years to turn the idea into a functioning facility, but it worked! Today, the Afrykarium is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Poland, and the zoo estimates that since its opening 8 million people have visited it. New species of animals arrive, and those who are already there grow in numbers.
- The first inhabitants of the Afrykarium were female African fur seals- Nabi and 3-month-old Zola. They moved in on 6 August, 2014. Then on August 11, we released the first African Penguins that came from France. In the following weeks, individuals from Gdańsk and Great Britain joined them. It was an amazing time, because the birds had to meet not only a new home, but also new friends. It should be noted that this is a monogamous species, so we suspected that they would pair up quickly. And we were right. Today we have over 100 individuals, and we started with 55. - says Paweł Borecki, keeper of penguins and African fur seals.
- I remember when the first transport of fish from the Netherlands arrived. There were two trucks that we unloaded all night. We were running between the trucks and the acclimatization tanks for hours. Then there was waiting and watching the fish to make sure everything was fine. We were full of excitement, but also stressed. After all, we were responsible for the lives of several thousand fish, including very rare and endangered species. - recalls Jakub Kordas, head of the aquariums in the Wroclaw zoo.
- The first year in the Afrykarium was a permanent state of readiness. Everything worked fine, but the water installation in this facility is innovative and it serves also as a Life Support System. We felt a great sense of relief after the 2015 storm, when the entire neighborhood lost power. The security system worked and the power generators started, and the animals in the Afrykarium were safe - says Krzysztof Krawczyk, administrative director of the Afrykarium.
- For me, the first transport of manatees from the Danish Odense Zoo is unforgettable. The 3-year-old twins, Armstrong and Gumle, travelled to us for 24 hours. For the first time we transported such large aquatic animals to our zoo. There were a lot of unknowns. We didn’t know how they would endure the journey. Would they acclimatize? We wondered if we’d properly prepared the living conditions for them, had the right food and if we knew enough about this species in general. Let me remind you that manatees are a little known, endangered with extinction species. And adult individuals can reach 1,000 kg of body weight! - says Marcin Matuszczak, keeper of the manatees.
- When the Afykarium opened, there were about 250 species of animals, mainly fish. Now, there are 100 more species. From the beginning, we assumed that the Afrykarium will change and develop. It is primarily a consequence of the nature of the facility, which is a home for animals, but also pursuing the theory of the "Red Queen", which I have been faithful to for years. - says proudly Radosław Ratajszczak, president of the Wroclaw zoo.
New inhabitants of the Afrykarium are, among others, African spurred tortoises, leafcutter ants, moray eels, jellyfish, openbills and elephant shrews. Manatees - Lavia and Piraya, Nile hippopotamus - Zumba, African fur seals - Hugo and Ivy, and 50 African penguins were born here. It is difficult to say how many fish have appeared, but zoo employees estimate it is several thousand.
- We managed to create a unique place that people like to visit and which gives them many unforgettable moments every time they come, because something is always changing here. However, this is not all. It is also a home for many endangered species which we successfully breed. - says Radosław Ratajszczak, president of the Wroclaw zoo.
What will the Afrykarium look like in the next 5 years?
- We're still running, we're not slowing down. A lot has changed in the zoo since the opening of the Afrykarium - we have opened, among others, the Odrarium, Dragons of Indonesia, Panther Territory and the Wolf Harbor. We are planning further investments. As for the Afrykarium itself, I hope that it will continue to grow, that it will continue to be a safe home for animals and that they will still feel good here. My dream is for visitors to become more and more involved in nature protection and for animals born and raised with us to return to the natural environment to strengthen their populations - sums up Ratajszczak.