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The Athens Zoo

 

There's Something Happening at the Zoo

Attica Zoological Park

There are 3 important reasons to visit Athens. The first is the Acropolis. The second is because you have to come here to get to the islands. The Athens Zoo is the third. Since I last visited the Zoological Park they have gone through a lot of changes and have become more of a real zoo with a large variety of animals. There is truly something happening at the zoo. Read this article and then visit the press release from the Attika Zoological Park

 Its All Happening at the Zoo: Attica Zoological Park

You can always count on the Athens News to tell you something you didn't know about Athens. From the latest on the Elgin Marbles to the most recent political scandal, the paper which comes out every Friday is full of information on politics, current events, art, culture and travel. Every week they feature an in-depth article on places of interest that are not widely known, like an organic pistachio farm in Aegina or a restored traditonal village in Crete. But no article arroused my interest like the one on the Attica Zoological Park in the Januray 11th 2002 issue.

Well, actually it arroused my wife's interest. When she told me about it I was only half listening and the thought of a zoo in Athens made me think of the small zoo in the National Gardens which has a handful of fairly common animals that look pretty unhappy and a population of ducks that have taken over every cage. It is an accepted fact that except for perhaps donkeys and sheep, which are more practical than pets, Greeks and animals don't have an affinity for each other and the thought of another Greek Zoo brought forth in me feelings of pity for any animal unlcuky enough to be transferred here, which along with the zoo in Kabul has to be the animal equivelant of Siberia.

"This zoo is different" Andrea assured me. "It is run by a Frenchman and it's brand new and it is out in the country, near the new airport in Spata." I looked at the article and agreed to call George the Famous Taxi Driver to take us there on Monday morning. It certainly seemed like an interesting place and worthy of an hour or so on a nice day. And then after that we could go a beach taverna at Loutsa for lunch!

Monday was a clear sunny day, the kind that makes me feel blessed to be in Greece and George picked us up at the Attalos Hotel at nine sharp. We had discussed going to Delphi and this change in plans seemed a little odd to George. Who would go to Spata unless they were going to the airport? I showed him the article and he seemed slightly interested but probably in his mind he was thinking that if there were anything more than some chickens and goats he would be surprised. We followed the directions from the article and took a left at the Veropoulos Supermarket on to the road to Loutsa and then took a left on the road to the Spata cemetary through fields of grapes and olive groves passing a sign here and there with an arrow that told us we were heading in the right direction. As we neared the top of a hill we saw the park and were very surprised. "It's big!" I said.
"It has to be. It is the 3rd largest bird collection in the world with over 2000 birds from 320 different speices." said Andrea, reading from the paper. "And there are other animals besides birds."

 Our Visit to the Athens Zoo

We pulled into a big parking lot with only a couple cars in it and suddenly we were filled with excitement, particularly Andrea and my daughter Amarandi, who could not get out of the car fast enough, and ran to the entrance. Sitting there next to the ticket booth was a huge owl who watched us in an intense but dis-interested way as owls and cats seem to be able to do. We paid our 10 Euro admission (kids pay 8 euro) and walked into a world which could not be any more different from modern Athens if it had been on another planet. There were ponds of turtles, fish and ducks, surrounded by trees, plants and flowers and acres of large buildings with giant outdoor cages the size of basketball courts. We followed the map that was given to us and spent at least two hours seeing the most amazing display of animals in their natural settings.

Maybe it has been awhile since I have been to a zoo but I don't remember ever going to one that when you came upon a cage the animals came to the front to get a good look at you. But that is what these birds do. Some came so close I had to ask them to move a step or two back so I could get them into focus with my camera. Maybe it is because these birds came from other zoos and had grown up with humans or maybe because the zoo was new they had not become indifferent to the passing masses of humanity and people were still of interest to them. But these birds came right up to you and some, like the African Grey parrots put their heads right up to the cage and indicated that it was perfectly ok with them if you pet them. The Conyers all hung on the side of the cage as close to me as they could get and screeched wildly when I began to leave, stopping only when I returned. These birds loved company!

The zoo is split into different sections. The smaller birds have cages the size of my living room while the large birds live in giant enclosed gardens. It is quite a feeling when a flock of birds, with wingspans of five-feet or more, fly over your head going from the pond on one side of the cage to the large tree on the other. As I wandered around taking pictures and watching the animals I didn't even notice that I had lost my family and they didn't notice that I was missing until we finally met up at the coffee shop at about the halfway point. Even the coffee shop had a couple impressive parrots that seemed insulted if you did not come up to the cage and hang out with them while you sipped your capuccino. (To top it off the coffee was excellent. When was the last time you went to a zoo that had good coffee?) Right next door to the cafe is an educational center with a collection of butterflies, moths, insects, scorpions and the kinds of bugs that you would rather see mounted than crawling up your leg.

The zoo belongs to the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums which has established humane standards for keeping animals in captivity, their diet and health as well as the education of visitors and breeding programs for endangered species. In the words of Diana Farr Lewis who wrote the Athens News article "
A well run zoo is like an ark, preserving species until the human race grows up enough for all of us to live together. " It was in the reptile house that I met the owner and curator of the Zoo, Jean-Jacques Lesueur where he and an employee were relocating a couple small pythons. According to the Athens News article he is from Paris but has been visiting Greece since 1955. He has a profound love for animals and wanted to create a zoo where the animals were treated well. Since Greece was one probably the only European country without a proper zoo he set out on a mission that may one day make the Athens Zoological Park the yardstick to which all other zoos are measured when it comes to diversity and the humane treatment of the animals. The presense of such a place in Greece will not only enhance the country's image abroad but will set an example for people here .

The zoo is also private. In other words it gets no funding from the Greek government but gets all it's money from the admission fees and the support of a few companies. Most of the people who come are from schools and on weekends there are some people who visit out of curiosity. But the zoo only opened in May and most Athenians don't know about it. If they did they would come in droves because besides the Acropolis, I can't think of a more interesting place to go in Athens. Mr. Lesueur also told me that they were adding some new animals encluding monkeys and large cats. Already there are two linx, a few kangaroos, a couple deer and the smallest ponies I have ever seen.

I suppose that besides the size of the zoo and the number of animals there, the most impressive thing was the care they are given. These are happy, healthy animals living in a place that is comfortable even by jungle standards. Perhaps the oddest thing is that you are so surrounded by ostriches, parrots, eagles, owls, toucans, storks and pelicans that you forget where you are. Suddenly you look up and see you are in the midst of an olive grove on the plains of Attika with Mount Hymittos in the background. The zoo is beautifully landscaped and it is a pleasure to just wander through the pathways among the trees, grass and ponds.

The Attica Zoological Park is definately worth a visit, especially if you have children. You can do what we did and spend a couple hours walking around and talking to the animals and then drive a few kilometers down the road to the seaside town of Loutsa and have a nice fish lunch at a beach taverna before heading back into Athens. If you happen to be in the airport with a couple hours or more between flights then why sit around looking at stressed people when you can jump in a cab and see a bunch of happy animals? The Zoo is open every day of the year from
9:00 to sunset. English is spoken and all the animals have their signs in English and Greek. For information you can call 210 663-4724 or 5. You can e-mail them at zoo@atticapark.gr

For trips to the zoo from Athens or from the airport contact George the Famous Taxi Driver at www.greecetravel.com/taxi or get your travel agent to arrange it for you.

Meet some of the birds and animals...

What's New at the Zoo

Athens Zoo Information

Park Hours: Everyday 9:00 to sunset
Entrance Fee: Adults: 14,00eu
Children 2-12: 10,00eu
Under 3: Free
Group over 25 people: 10,00eu
Nurseries - Play schools: 7,00eu
Primary - High schools: 8,00eu
Seniors (over 65): 10,00eu
Annual card for adults: 45,00eu
Annual card for children: 35,00eu
Disabled: Free
Location: At Yalou - Spata
Access By Bus:
319 or 321 from Doukisis Plakentias until Spata town hall and from there the local line 320.
From Attiki Odos: Exit 18 to Spata (From the Airport)
Exit 16P to Rafina (From Elefsina)
End of Attiki Odos towards Rafina (From Ymittos Ringroad)

By Taxi see
www.greecetravel.com/taxi

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