The day dawned bright and sunny and presented a perfect opportunity to return to Dublin Zoo. Since the last time we were there, the Reptile House has been closed and the animals from there relocated to the newly opened Zoorassic World which, in addition to beautiful, new, and much brighter habitats for the living reptiles, also now houses replica fossils skeletons of dinosaurs and a room recreated as Charles Darwin’s study.
It’s a pretty universal truth that kids love animals. And it’s a pretty universal truth that kids love dinosaurs. So imagine a building where you have both animals and dinosaurs under one roof. It’s kid excitement².
First of all, the building is breathtakingly light and airy. It’s easy to forget you’re in an old Victorian building which first opened in 1902. Secondly, of course, you have the main feature – Stan the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Stan is so big he’s impossible to photograph in his entirety.
In contrast, one of the other fossil replicas in the exhibit is this little beastie. A toddler in the know (with a daddysaur expert behind him) reliably informed me that this was a “vewosiwaptor”. Imagine my shock and surprise to discover that Hollyood has lied to us all about the size of these clever beasts. Samuel L. Jackson would probably be horrified to discover that his character actually got his arm ripped off my something the size of a greyhound dog rather than a giant jeep-sized monstrosity.
Aside from the living animals, the assembled skeletons, and a couple of the exhibits such as the replica dinosaur digs and Darwin’s study, the rest of the place was tactile and open to small curious hands. Everything from child-height signs, rows of dinosaur eggs, fossilised crocodile skulls, to the life size statues of a Galapagos tortoise and a Komodo dragon placed on the floor.
Interestingly enough, even though he was willing to go up and pet the giant tortoise, Hawkeye displayed a healthy dose of reluctance to approach the Komodo dragon, as if instinctively sensing that a live version of this guy could easily bite his arm off.
The rest of the exhibit was given over to the living descendants magnificently displayed in rebuilt habitats. It feels like the opposite of the old dark and humid Reptile House. The water-based habitats are elevated significantly, allowing you to see almost as much under the water as above it, giving a much better view of the creatures such as the turtles and the crocodiles. We did get a good view of all of them, though I was not able to get good photos of the crocodiles except for the one at a distance, which was resting with its mouth conveniently open, as if waiting for prey to waltz inside in blissful ignorance of its forthcoming doom.
And even those creatures which are mostly above ground were arranged in way that made it easier for visitors to get a closer look while still creating the appearance of a complete habitat. The trick, of course, was to look past the camouflage. While the green crested lizards, the mangrove monitor, and the panther chameleon weren’t trying very hard to hide, the forest dragon had me completely fooled for a minute as I searched his enclosure for any sign of life.
My absolute favourite from this trip, however, was the green tree python. I stood in front of the sign on the glass and repeatedly searched all the corners, nooks, and crannies of this particular enclosure looking for the bright green snake and failed to spot it until another gentleman came up and pointed it out to me with a smile. The critter was hiding behind its own sign, smugly posing on a tree branch in the exact same pose. It is definitely today’s winner of “the animals are screwing with your brain” competition!
Overall, I am absolutely delighted with the newest addition to Dublin Zoo. I have been repeatedly amazed by their ingenuity at making use of space and their repeated rearranging of habitats to try and make the experience as organic as possible for the animals within the restrictions of captivity, while simultaneously making them accessible to the public. We exited the exhibit to a giant (possibly life size) mural of a diplodocus, which amused Hawkeye to no end as he stared at its feet.
We went on to have some great sightings of the elephants, ostriches, monkeys, orangutans, bongos, and even my first close-up look at the hitherto-elusive okapi, which is an animal that looks like a cross between a deer and a zebra, but is actually most closely related to giraffes, apparently. However, that is a post for another day, I think.
*This post had been amended to correct the name of the dinosaur on the mural, because there’s no such thing as a diplosaurus in nature. A diplosaurus is a man made creature that appears when more than one retired diplomat is found in one location and they meet each other and start taking about things back in their day.