My top 5 must-visit zoos and aquaria

My daughter immersing herself at Burgers' Ocean.
Who doesn't like lists?

In general I am a fan of zoos and aquaria, despite the debates I outlined in this essay. From all the zoos and aquaria I have visited so far, these are my personal recommendations (in no particular order). Their designs are often top-notch and they score high on educational and conservation values (although there is always room for improvement). So you should definitely try to visit them if you have the chance.
  • The eco-displays of Royal Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands. Burgers’ was one of the first zoos in the world to introduce simulated habitats in spacious indoor ecosystems. Such a smart, but natural next step after the introduction of moats by Carl Hagenbeck (that replaced iron bars). Their eco-displays give (most) animal more space to roam, a higher chance of them behaving naturally, a more balanced ‘food-web’, and the visitor a better experience of the type of habitat. It also means you actually have to make an effort to see something. However, such new developments create a painful contrast with the older ‘menagerie’ parts of Burgers’.
  • The insectarium in Aquarium Berlin in Germany (part of the Berlin Zoological Garden) shows off an incredible diversity of small critters and tells you a lot about this often overlooked group. It also shows that old buildings are not necessarily incompatible with new technology and ideas on animal welfare. Very cool, especially the ants.
  • Micropia (part of Artis) in the Netherlands make the invisible visible. With a blend of high-tech and interactive displays they show you the world of micro-organisms. This is actually one of the most informative exhibits I have ever seen. For example: other zoos have leafcutter ants too, but here the fungus (the ants cultivate) are the actual star. Or what about seeing Sea Sparkle (Noctiluca scintillans) showing off their bioluminescence?
  • Vivarium Proteus in Slovenia shows local wildlife that adapted to life in the Postojna cave system (though bit of a tourist trap itself). Maybe not the most spacious aquaria and terraria, but very educational about the little known field of speleobiology.
  • The Lisbon Aquarium. This is the most well thought-out, designed and well-maintained aquarium I have visited so far. There is not only the impressive scale, but a very smart use of space that blends the visitors experience with multiple ‘trophic levels’. Highly recommended!

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