Less than a month ago, Prague Zoo opened a new pavilion for Chinese giant salamanders which has proven to be a major attraction. The project was completed at the cost of 23.6 million crowns, after first being proposed four years ago by the zoo’s director, Pavel Bobek, who found inspiration in Karel Čapek’s famous novel The War with the Newts.
The pavilion features several of the amphibians, including the 155 cm-long male named Karlo, on loan from Germany. A second adult male and female, as well as several young, also share “living quarters”, the creation of which was not at all easy.
Jana Ptačinská is the spokesperson for Prague Zoo:
“Creating a successful habitat for the highly rare and endangered animal was a tough nut to crack. These are very shy creatures which normally live in the mountains in China and are only rarely seen. Our expert on amphibians Petr Velenský and others tackled the problem admirably, creating a pavilion which was suitable for the animals but at the same time provided plenty of access for viewers, who can view them at different angles.”
According to the spokeswoman, it was necessary to provide individual swimming holes for the salamanders as well as fresh moving water, as clean as the natural habitat where the rare animal lives. The pavilion is also programmed to simulate different periods of the day as well, so that visitors can observe the animals under “night” conditions when the creatures are the most active. Most will find the sight of the giant amphibians unusual, and the zoo made no mistake in splashing billboards featuring the giant salamanders across the city: the pavilion has been a major attraction since day one.
The zoo’s spokesperson again:
“They are bizarre creatures but I wouldn’t ever call them ugly. They are so strange-looking but they are so unusual in the end it’s attractive!... There is a cultural aspect as well: in the pavilion, visitors can learn more or listen to an audio recording with excerpts from Čapek’s work and learn how, in all likelihood, he was inspired by this very creature.”
Jana Ptačinská points out that the opportunity to see the giant salamanders is almost unique.
“They truly are very rare animals: their presence in Prague Zoo definitely raises our profile and ranks us alongside the few other top zoos in the world that have facilities for these creatures.”