Monday, October 26, 2015

Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo

Kolmården Zoo, rhinoceros  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


As we're easing our way into the darkest months of the year (the Daylight Savings time switch this past weekend means that it's now nearly pitch black outside by just after 5PM), I realized I never shared our last summer outing in Sweden at the end of August when we drove two hours south of Stockholm to Kolmården, a zoo near Norrköping.

But when I say "zoo" I don't mean "zoo", because spending the day at Kolmården made me realize that the American version of zoos I'm accustomed to does not even remotely compare to the Swedish (or this Swedish) version. I wouldn't even call it a zoo, it's more like a nature reserve combined with someone's very well-maintained backyard.

Zoos have always meant animals in cages crammed one after the other to me. Not vast, beautifully-manicured open spaces with animals amicably hanging out together. I've never seen anything like it. Not only are there no cages at Kolmården, but there aren't any of your typical, animal-restraining fences either. By using very simple, rustic wooden fences—the type you might see in a garden, not to contain wild animals—or a combination of very discreet wires and effectively-placed, water-filled ditches, visitors are essentially a few feet away from animals without blatantly-obstructive barriers between them. In the picture above, I didn't zoom in, that's really how close we were.

Kolmården Zoo  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Kolmården Zoo, bears  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


R and his friends used to visit Kolmården quite often when he lived in Stockholm in his twenties, which might seem like a strange thing for young guys to do, but back then it was a do-it-yourself, safari-style animal park. People drove their cars into the park and through the animal enclosures, i.e., right next to loping giraffes, ambling bears, and yawning lions (which I can't even fathom).

Guards with guns (which I'm assuming were stun guns) were stationed throughout in case any animal became too aggressive, but still, the idea is fairly shocking to me. After having experienced that, he (quite naturally) found the newly-designed Kolmården a bit tame and boring, but for someone who has only experienced American-style zoos I was completely charmed by the bucolic setup, especially as the animals seemed to be so content, and walking through the park was so very calming and serene.

(The enjoyment of which manifests in ticket prices—I was a bit speechless when we paid about $80 for the two of us to enter, but after seeing how well-cared for the animals and environment were, I didn't mind...at least not nearly as much as I did when we first paid.)

The other aspect that made Kolmården so inviting and pleasant to me was how the park was partly divided into mixed-animal habitats, like the savannah (in the opening picture), where rhinos, gazelles and the like meandered about each other, as they might in real life.

Apart from walking around the different areas, we also saw the dolphin show (we have an affinity for all things dolphin), which was impressive, with a mix of moving (the dolphins performing to My Heart Will Go On and The Circle of Life — it's like they knew me!) and instructive, as one part of the show included a somewhat scary and definitely impressionable film, complete with intense sound effects and strobing green and red lights, where the Swedes took the opportunity to send out a social message with a story of how our thoughtless actions (i.e., not recycling, wasting and polluting water, etc.) are negatively affecting dolphin habitats.

Kolmården Zoo, dolphin show  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Kolmården Zoo, dolphin show  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


We made the trip down with our friend and her daughter, meaning that besides touring around the park, I spent 90% of my time trying to make R behave and not set too bad of an example for the 4-year old, as he spent 110% of his time (1) stepping over the little rock border that leads into the animals' enclosures, which of course she immediately wanted to do, too, (2) pretending to throw food to the animals, like pieces of bread to the lions, directly in front of the "please do not feed the animals" sign, and (3) making aggressive sounds at the gorillas.

(Of course he wasn't really doing anything that would endanger her or himself and wasn't really aggravating the animals, he just happens to find particular joy in making me crazy, which is still possible after 10 years, as I have apparently not yet learned to detect his telltale, pulling-your-leg signs.)

Kolmården Zoo, cable car view Bråviken  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Kolmården Zoo, cable car safari  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Kolmården Zoo, cable car safari zebra zoom  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Kolmården Zoo, cable car view  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


At the end of the day we rode the cable car that carries you above the safari (giraffes, lions, tigers, zebras, etc.). Not only was there a beautiful view of the animals doing their thing, but also out towards Bråviken, the bay that borders Kolmården. The line was very, very long to get onto the cable cars, but those views were completely worth it.

Kolmården Zoo, animals going to their barns  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Kolmården Zoo, animals going to their barns  |  Kolmården: the zoo that's not at all like a zoo on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


Before we left we made one more loop through the park as it was closing and saw the most amazingly Swedish thing ever: the caretakers had signaled to the animals that it was time to head to their nighttime enclosures and I kid you not, those animals marched themselves, in line, within their own herds, out of the paddocks and into their barns, one group at a time with no corralling or encouraging from anyone, as if they'd taken a numbered ticket at the customer service counter of a boutique, Swedish style.

It was surreal to see—like witnessing the boarding of Noah's Ark (or watching the opening scene of The Lion King), when in reality, it was just those exotic animals showing their total assimilation into Swedish culture.

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One year ago: Postcard from Andalucía: Malaga
Two years ago: Raw cacao cashew crunch cups & Postcard from St. Lucia

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