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Osnabrück Zoo: Climbing and sliding alongside lions, tigers & other creatures

By Lisa Josef (press & sponsorship (ppa), Zoo Osnabrück gGmbH)


Visitors can tell they are approaching the four playgrounds on the 23.5-hectare site of Osnabrück Zoo by the gleeful shrieks and the sounds of children's laughter. These imaginative playgrounds are every bit as popular with children as the 2260 animals of 289 different species that reside here. And it's a factor of which the zoo has taken full advantage.

For many years playgrounds have been at the heart of the business strategy for Osnabrück Zoo. "As we are as good as self-financing, which is very tough for a zoo, revenues from day and annual tickets are crucial. They account for three quarters of our total budget. With our playgrounds we offer families, who are our main target group, an additional incentive to visit the zoo", reports the zoo's business manager Andreas Busemann. A visit to the zoo is further enhanced by a total of four creative playgrounds. And their importance is reflected in both the zoo's figures and visitor surveys: in recent years the number of annual family tickets has risen to 22,000, equating to 88,000 visitors (4 people per family) while the total number of visitors has topped the million mark in each of the last three years. And of this total, over 50 per cent travel from outside the Osnabrück region, with the average journey standing at 75 kilometres. "These figures are fantastic and made all the more impressive by the fact that we are not in a metropolitan region. This shows us that Osnabrück Zoo is a very attractive destination for a day trip which attracts people to our region. Our attractive offering with animals in authentic natural environments and playgrounds, which we feature prominently in our marketing, is what attracts people to us", says a delighted Busemann.

"As a manager the one thing that you cannot do is put your head in the sand. Only a few of our feathered friends in the zoo are allowed to do that. We are constantly striving to find fresh income streams to fund the further development of the zoo", says business manager Busemann. The marketing aspect was central in the planning of the Osnabrück model. From the outset marketing has been a fluid concept which has had to be constantly adapted to the zoo's changing market position - and this will remain the case going forward. At the beginning it was possible to significantly increase visitor numbers by relatively simple means, with distinctive event marketing playing a central role. With growing visitor and sponsorship revenue it was then possible to take the decisive step and invest record sums in the zoo "product". However, the ethical aspects of marketing were given absolute priority. Before the new experience landscapes were created the necessary significant investment in animal welfare was carried out. After these essential investments there was sufficient financial scope to create new, attractive animal enclosures.

However, having made the zoo more attractive it also had to be possible to reach potential target groups outside the region. This was achieved by means of extensive, supraregional advertising campaigns. And the second phase of the marketing initiative immediately followed: coherent experience worlds were successively designed and made the zoo a more attractive destination for visitors from outside the region.

The annual visitor surveys conducted by the zoo in conjunction with the cmx consulting company also consistently highlight the appeal of its playgrounds. In the open-ended questions respondents regularly mention the playgrounds as a very good supplementary offering for children. "And it is essential that there is a restaurant or a kiosk with seating for parents next to the playgrounds. In recent years our leaseholders have extended the restaurant in our "Neue OZ Petting Land" because the integrated petting area playground meant visitors were staying longer and also eating and drinking more", says Busemann.


What are the features of the playgrounds in Osnabrück Zoo?

So: what are the features of the playgrounds in Osnabrück Zoo? The older playgrounds, which nonetheless remain very popular, are the "Neue OZ Children's Land" and the "Giraffe Playground". The "Neue OZ Children's Land" is strategically located by the zoo's main restaurant, which is open year-round. Here kids can romp through an African-style village with an underground tunnel system, climb on a historic locomotive, drive small electric cars or paddle in a water play area on sunny days. Lots of parents bring a change of clothing because kids love to romp and spray water in the latter area of the playground. The "Giraffe Playground" is at the start of the zoo circuit and is the first, and always welcome, place to climb and slide after the first animals have been viewed. Here daredevils can scale a ten-metre giraffe slide, practice long jump or get butterflies in their stomach on a roundabout. Meanwhile, adults can take advantage of a large kiosk with picnic benches and tables serving speciality coffees and snacks, ice cream and pastries. In the summer the wood here offers a cool, shady spot.


The new "Makatanda" and "Neue OZ Petting Land" playgrounds

In 2010 the new "Takamanda" Africa animal world and "Makatanda" play village were added. On a 5.5-hectare site the zoo built a completely new animal world including an imaginative playground with a restaurant area. The treehouses in the "Makatanda" play village offer a place to sit and eat but are also part of the play area. This also consists of treehouses which are linked by a climbing net and a system of pipes around two metres above the ground. This area is for slightly older children and is therefore accessed via several wooden ladders which are rather challenging to climb. In another area younger children can enjoy a village school and an ox cart. We created this play village and the "Neue OZ Children's Land" in partnership with the wood designer and playground builder Jürgen Bergmann, who came up with a really dramatic setting. In "Makatanda" kids can really immerse themselves and enact their stories and ideas in a fabulous environment", explains Busemann. Bergmann took inspiration from the "Takamanda" national park in Cameroon, where similar treehouses are to be found. Children can also enjoy playing on a basket swing and rope swings which accommodate several children and clambering through pipes.

In 2013 the "Neue OZ Petting Land“ area was added in the "Angkor Wat" Asian animal world. In keeping with the theme of the animal world, this area is inspired by Asian farming villages. This village is also the work of Jürgen Bergmann, with attention paid to the smallest detail in his design: accordingly, the village includes a blacksmith, a hairdresser and a school with appropriate furniture. But the children aren't alone here in their play world: it's also a home for goats. "In our old petting area the goats would always withdraw to their sheltered area, with the children left alone on a dreary meadow. So we decided to combine a playground and a petting area so that if the goats withdraw, the children can romp around on the playground", explains Busemann. The idea has been a great success and the play area is enjoyed by children and goats alike. For the latter also enjoy wandering into the playhouses and climbing onto the ox cart. An area for small children was also created here with age-appropriate play facilities such as a small slide and a play house. Parents can look forward to hearty and sweet snacks and resting on benches in the attached restaurant with a view of the "Monkeys' Temple".

In addition to the playgrounds the zoo has created a movement course through the zoo in tandem with the "Kinderbewegungsstadt Osnabrück“ ("Children's Activity City Osnabrück") organisation. On various animal enclosures there are signs encouraging children to get active: Can you stand on one leg like a flamingo? Can you run as fast as a greater rhea or climb the stone polar bear statue? Families can pick up a leaflet which guides them through the zoo to the activity stations and provides information on the animal performing artists. So with the help of the animals the zoo encourages children to get active and try out new things.


Playgrounds: an investment that pays off

And so it's well worth popping along to the zoo in the afternoon with the kids, watching the flamingos, saying hello to the spider monkeys and then letting off steam in one of the large playgrounds for an hour. Osnabrück Zoo is a great place for families with a varied leisure offering. As well as having a great range of animals to observe, children also enjoy the opportunity to let off steam and get active. This attractive family offering is also reflected in a survey conducted in 2007 by Osnabrück University in which children are cited as one of the main reasons for a visit to the zoo. And in this way the circle is closed: with its new play and experience offerings the zoo attracted more and more new visitors and families. And thanks to the higher visitor numbers and ticket receipts the zoo was in turn able to create new experience worlds.

Osnabrück Zoo invested a total of EUR 1.5 million in its play worlds. "Of course it's also necessary to factor in a budget for maintenance. Every spring the safety of the playgrounds is checked by experts and if necessary improved", explains Busemann. The zoo has set aside an annual budget of EUR 5,000 for this purpose. "And it's well worth the investment because the figures show that we're on the right path. In addition, we can advertise with our playgrounds. Our playgrounds feature prominently in our flyers and celebrating their openings with families has also been effective from a publicity standpoint." Two of the playgrounds also feature the name of the regional newspaper the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. The publisher is a long-term partner of the zoo and the openings were accompanied, for example, with competitions for children, says the zoo's business manager. "Based on our experience we can unreservedly recommend investing in exciting play worlds: it goes without saying that children love animals but they also want to run, climb and swing while the parents enjoy sitting nearby and drinking coffee. Families make up at least 80 per cent of the main target group of zoos and so having such an offering is certainly worthwhile", states Busemann confidently. In fact, the playgrounds are so popular that annual ticket holders even come to the zoo just so that children can climb and romp around, adds the delighted business manager.   


Interesting facts about Osnabrück Zoo

Osnabrück Zoo was founded in 1935 by residents of Osnabrück as a local zoo. And the zoo remains a society today, though it has founded a non-profit limited liability company and is almost entirely self-financing. The zoo now occupies a 23.5-hectare site and over the last ten years has built many experience-oriented animal worlds. Particularly noteworthy is the "Underground Zoo", opened in 2009. In this deceptively realistic 500-m2 labyrinth of tunnels visitors can discover a variety of soil dwellers such as desert mole rats, common mole rats, prairie dogs, rats and coruros. What makes the "Underground Zoo" unique is its design: the visitor has the sensation of entering a subterranean tunnel, with tree roots sticking out of the ceiling and walls featuring colours and different materials that make them look like they have been created from layers of earth. The animals' passageways are set into the walls in pipes, mimicking their natural underground burrows, and the visitor observes the nests and storerooms of the little creatures through horizontal cuts in the walls. Computer and listening stations provide information on the unique residents of the burrows and a 3-screen cinema shows impressive scenes from nature. The unique concept of this animal world, intended to inspire visitors to protect this unknown habitat beneath our feet, resulted in a sharp increase in visitors to the zoo. This enabled further animal worlds to be created such as the African world "Takamanda", the Northern European world "Kajanaland", the Asian world "Angkor Wat" and the North American world "Manitoba". The "Mapungubwe" African area is currently under construction and includes a rhinoceros and lion area. The zoo has also taken full advantage of its hilly and wooded site and created a USP: in many areas elevated paths run alongside the enclosures, affording unrestricted views of the animals. At the same time this reduces the amount of uphill walking for visitors.


Photo: : Zoo Osnabrück and Zoo Osnabrück (Stephan Schute)

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