Ready for animal action

Dortmund Zoo, with around 1,500 animals and 230 species, is a huge crowd-puller. Keeping this motley and capricious community happy is a challenge in terms of manpower and materials and is really hard work – though visitors are scarcely aware of this. However, the zoo now features a very striking "beast of burden". It looks like a giraffe, burrows like a meerkat, is armed like a rhinoceros and moves as sure-footedly as a Himalayan tahr.

Meerkats share everything – even females

Meerkats love insects, but catching them is a problem, as there are no termite mounds in the zoo and no swarms of locusts flying by. "So sometimes we hide insects in a melon. We bore holes into it from all sides, put insects inside, and at the end there's nothing left," says zookeeper Benjamin Andrzejak. Live-packaged vitamins.

Playing, digging and their close-knit society keep meerkats healthy, which is vital for reproduction. However, the prospects here are bleak. At the moment, the only meerkats in the enclosure at Dortmund are three males. The last female recently died of old age. The keepers and zoo management agree that a new female is urgently needed. Only one? "Yes," confirms Andrzejak, "Meerkats share everything, even partners – everyone in the mob is allowed to breed."

The Angolan giraffe

Strength under a calm exterior

Zikomo's coat is getting wavy and lies in thick ridges all over his body. "He's not yet fully-grown. In a year's time his coat will be smooth," says zookeeper Mike Pernau. Zikomo is a "young rebel". He is four years old and lives in an enclosure with his mother Gambela (20) and his aunt Himba (18).

Giraffes are actually very laid-back and peaceful and have the most beautiful eyes in the animal kingdom – really long eyelashes fringing dark gentle eyes – which these animals, the tallest in the world, use for keeping an eye on everything. Soon, Zikomo will be moved to Lisbon. It's too long a journey for him to make on his own feet. He belongs to a rare species, the Angolan giraffe. There are only two herds in the world, one in Dortmund and one in Lisbon. The aim is that he will bring new blood into the breeding programme there. Transporting him there will not be without risk. Here in Dortmund Zoo, they are all too well aware of that.

"Once, a giraffe gave birth to her baby in a ditch. It couldn't stand up by itself, and the mother was becoming very distressed. We had to step in, but she defended her baby with her most fearsome weapon, her hooves," explains zookeeper Mike Pernau. Giraffes are family animals – when their environment is threatened, they can aim their kicks well. In the wild, a kick from a giraffe's hoof is generally fatal to a predator. People would fare no better.

"We had to put a cage over the newborn and get the mother out of the way. We were all scared stiff of her," he remembers.

When the mother and baby were reunited in the stall later, safe and sound, they were both peace personified, all traces of the mother's aggression had disappeared, even the baby giraffe's tiny horns were already almost erect. "That is one of the favourite questions asked by children at the zoo – what are those tiny horns on the giraffe's head and are they soft?" Pernau knows the answer – Zikomo is very trusting and allows him to stroke him between the horns. "Yes, the coat is soft," says Pernau, "but only the coat. Underneath, there is a sort of antler."

The Himalayan tahr

Can climb like a world champion

In the wild, they are almost invisible. Camouflaged against the rugged rocks of the Himalayan mountains, you only see them when they bolt. Here in Dortmund Zoo, fortunately, things are different. Now is the mating season. In the mountains, this sometimes ends in death for lower-ranking bulls. For this reason, the rocks and logs in the zoo are arranged so as to provide the animals with a challenging environment to scramble around in, as they would in their natural habitat, but so that losing a fight will not lead straight to a broken neck. The enclosure door opens. Immediately, the bull positions his horns. It's time for him to prove himself.

Defending the herd is one of his tasks as the leader in the zoo mountains. But it's not an opponent waiting outside. It's just the wheel loader. It's a friend. No imminent threat. Proudly, he struts forward and shows who's boss in this enclosure. Boldly, he strides towards the bucket and jumps up onto the tyres. The others follow hesitantly, but they all join him. "Himalayan tahrs are incredibly curious and greedy and follow the bull. Sometimes they even climb onto the roof of the wheel loader," says keeper Jens Voigtländer.

It is precisely because the tahrs are so curious that the wheel loader is here. It has to rearrange the enclosure frequently, so that the animals don't get bored. Today, the climbing tree is being turned into a seesaw. And who's the first to have a go? The bull, of course.

The rhinoceros

Supremely well equipped

The earth is shaking. Your only chance against an angry rhinoceros is to stand perfectly still. Rhinos have very poor vision. At a distance of 30 metres they can't recognize a human figure. However, their senses of smell and hearing are excellent. If the animal detects something unwelcome and switches to attack mode, it doesn't matter how much of a head start you have, as rhinos can run at up to 50 kilometres an hour. But what upsets them?

"The sun is shining, it's warm, two males and two females, even in the zoo there's a bit of tension between the rhinos," says garden superintendent Ursula Hettwer.

In the middle of their area stands a tree that has been rubbed bare. Before, when it was a rather healthier-looking specimen, it was protected by rocks. But rhinos are hard-hitting by nature and have the tools and the strength to rearrange their enclosure in their search for food. "The tree will soon have to be felled. Too much bark is not good for the animals," says Ursula Hettwer. But when it greens up enough, in the spring, the giraffes can nibble on it. In the zoo, as in the rainforest, everything is recycled.

People say that rhinos have "armour", but in actual fact it is just thick, hairless skin. "It's rough like concrete, but also very sensitive, and behind the ears it is really soft," reveals Hettwer. The ears are extremely sensitive and very distinctively shaped. "This makes it possible for the keepers to tell the animals apart by looking at their ears," explains the garden superintendent. Right on cue, Mike Pernau, the giraffe keeper, comes along the path. It's not his area, but he rattles off the giant beasts' names. All the keepers love the rhinos. They always have one eye on the herd. Due to the alleged miraculous powers of their horns, not only are rhinos as good as extinct in the wild, but even in the zoo they are not 100% safe. For this reason, keeping an eye on them and securing the enclosure are the keepers' main concerns.

  • The bosses in the enclosure
    Rhino skin feels like concrete, say the keepers. Only behind the ears is the skin really soft. The keepers are allowed to tickle them there.

    The bosses in the enclosure

    Rhino skin feels like concrete, say the keepers. Only behind the ears is the skin really soft. The keepers are allowed to tickle them there.

  • The approach artist
    The wheel loader's long reach means that it can cater to the sensitive giants' needs without having to get too close to their armour.

    The approach artist

    The wheel loader's long reach means that it can cater to the sensitive giants' needs without having to get too close to their armour.

  • The quick coupler
    Liebherr supplies the vehicle with a quick-coupling system as standard, to make it easier for the driver to switch between the various attachments.

    The quick coupler

    Liebherr supplies the vehicle with a quick-coupling system as standard, to make it easier for the driver to switch between the various attachments.

  • The zookeepers

    Everything under control

    The visitors don't see most of what the keepers do. "Sometimes we spend half a day just clearing up dung," says Martin Horn. It doesn't sound quite like a dream job. "Well, it's got to be done, but now at least we've got some help," he says with a grin. "When the going gets tough, we now have the vehicle that looks like a giraffe to help us. It keeps everyone here in a good mood." Martin Horn is in charge of the tahrs and wild cats. "All the same, we're a bit jealous that the wheel loader wasn't designed like a leopard," he says with a wink.

    The bottom line, however, is that it doesn't matter: "The main thing is that thanks to the wheel loader, we have more time for creative activities. The people at the zoo, it appears, are all strong, robust and not at all squeamish. Outwardly, at least. But on the inside, the picture is very different. They are worriers, protectors and sometimes even a little crazy. "At the zoo, you begin to think about what happens during the day and at night. But that's fine and it forges a strong bond. The feeling of responsibility for the animals is huge."

    Everyone knows the "Witch". She lives in the giraffe house. She sleeps during the day, and at night she hunts mice and rats. Witch is the zoo cat. "She's useful not just for hunting," explains keeper Benjamin Andrzejak. "She also keeps away other free-roaming cats, which often bring in disease and their own young. That's the last thing we need here. Unfortunately, Witch is already very old, around 14."

  • In action: powerhouses join forces
    Rhinos have enormous appetites and are always trying to rearrange their enclosure. So the wheel loader is just the right thing to help them.

    In action: powerhouses join forces

    Rhinos have enormous appetites and are always trying to rearrange their enclosure. So the wheel loader is just the right thing to help them.

  • The landscaper
    It's impossible now to imagine Dortmund Zoo without the stereoloader as a "beast of burden".

    The landscaper

    It's impossible now to imagine Dortmund Zoo without the stereoloader as a "beast of burden".

  • The pussyfooter
    The giraffes, who are easily startled, have long been used to their silent companion in the enclosure.

    The pussyfooter

    The giraffes, who are easily startled, have long been used to their silent companion in the enclosure.

  • The one for heavy jobs
    Shovelling, loading, grabbing and grading – with its 4-in-1 bucket, the L507 Stereo performs a wide range of tasks in the zoo.

    The one for heavy jobs

    Shovelling, loading, grabbing and grading – with its 4-in-1 bucket, the L507 Stereo performs a wide range of tasks in the zoo.

  • The boredom beater
    The Himalayan tahrs like a mountainous environment. The wheel loader creates a constant supply of attractive new climbing adventures for them.

    The boredom beater

    The Himalayan tahrs like a mountainous environment. The wheel loader creates a constant supply of attractive new climbing adventures for them.

  • The extinction of many animal species in the wild means that zoos are often the last resort for the survival of a species. It is therefore important that the animals are healthy and that everything is done to prevent inbreeding. For this reason, stud books of all the animals are kept. Each zoo has animals allocated to it. For example, Lisbon is responsible for Angolan giraffes and has requested that Dortmund's young giraffe, Zikomo, be relocated to Portugal. Dortmund is responsible for the breeding of anteaters and giant otters.

    Breeding requires a master plan. "The animals need caring for every single day," says keeper Benjamin Andrzejak. Garden superintendent Ursula Hettwer says: "We have four areas in the zoo, over 50 zookeepers, eight gardeners and three carpenters." And these have recently been joined by a Liebherr L 507 Stereoloader in a giraffe design. It came straight from the Liebherr sales branch in Dortmund. "Everyone loves the stereoloader! It's the perfect choice for rough and ready jobs and for those requiring a delicate touch, and it's already an attraction in its own right – everyone stops to look at it. It moves soil and improves paths. It hauls roots and helps to muck out sparrow hotels, pile up branches and leaves, transport earth and feed and excavate ponds." And? "It gets the gardeners playing rock-paper-scissors every morning – the winner gets to drive it."

    Powerful all-rounder: the Liebherr L 507 stereoloader

    Short of space? Lift the fork. Small turning circle? No problem. View? Superb. Loud? No.

    Encounter with the sawn-up horse

    Ursula Hettwer sometimes comes across the wheel loader in the fruit and vegetable store. "It shifts mountains of delicious food, things I would gladly cook for myself," she says with a wink. Her first visit to the cold store, however, was an altogether different affair. "I'm a vegetarian and a keen horse rider, and on my first tour of the zoo I ended up in the meat store, of all places. Hanging there was a half sawn-up horse – food for the big cats. That really upset me." Keeper Martin Horn confirms this: "That's the way it works here, we saw off portions of meat ourselves for our predators. We know our big cats really well and we know when they are hungry and how much food they need. But of course it does mean that the portioning of their meals isn't a very pretty sight."

    Hands off our penguin!

    The next big project is already lined up: The fence around the zoo is being replaced. Here, too, the wheel loader can show what it's capable of. It is intended to make life difficult for burglars. Not only when they are breaking into the zoo, but above all when they are trying to get out again. The new fence design is supposed to make it virtually impossible. But who would steal from a zoo? "Animals are being stolen from zoos everywhere, or at least thieves are trying to do so. We once lost a penguin," explains Ursula Hettwer. Just recently, Dortmund Zoo received a warning from the police: rhinoceros thieves are on the move worldwide, even in Germany. "Rhinoceros horn is worth its weight in gold," says Ursula Hettwer. In Asia, it is seen as an aphrodisiac and a miracle cure for impotence. Because rhinos are as good as extinct in the wild, thieves are now trying to obtain horn supplies from zoos. For this reason, the keepers are always happy to meet up at the rhino enclosure outside opening hours. Everyone keeps an eye on whether things are OK. The people at Dortmund are a real zoo family.

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