Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sarajevo Zoo

Right before a zookeeper warned Eleanor the donkey would bit her hand if she kept trying to feed him.
When we first moved abroad, we didn't go to zoos. A zoo you can do back home; why do it in Europe? When I realized that my two year old had never been to a zoo in his entire life because of this policy, I decided that I needed to rethink things. Since then, having visited several European zoos, my attitude is very different.

There are traditional zoos, like the ones in Rotterdam or Vienna. But we've had great experiences at more quirky zoos, too, like a small private zoo in rural Austria and the fascinating Apenheul in the Netherlands.

Sarajevo has a zoo, too, with a very sad history. Before the war it had 150 animal species. The siege line was at the zoo, and even if there had been enough food to feed the animals, those who tried (and some did) risked their lives. By the end of 1992, eight months after the siege had started, all the animals had died (a gripping New York Times article from the time).

When we lived here in 2002, the zoo was struggling back. It was, as I remember, mostly cramped cages lining the sidewalks. Enterprising Sarajevans set up charcoal grills and sold cevapi (traditional Bosnian sausages) along the sidewalk.

In the years since, a lot has happened at the zoo. There is a huge playground, the biggest and best-maintained one I've seen in Sarajevo. The landscaping is lovely, and the animals are in well-designed enclosures. I don't know what the official statistics are, but the kids and I counted 32 different types of animals (including 2 types of ponies, three types of goats, and assorted chickens, geese, and ducks)--nowhere near what the zoo once had, but the animals are well-selected and fun to watch.

On sunny days, the zoo is busy and the playground, especially, rings with children's happy voices. Yes, you can visit zoos in the US, but no zoo with the history this one has.

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