Leipzig Zoo
Pongoland - Chimpanzees

Frank Oberwemmer, Peter Rasbach (authors), Monika Fiby (editor, translator)

Published 24 Jul 2001



Pfaffendorfer Straße 29
D-04105 Leipzig
Phone: 0049 341 5933500
URL: http://www.zoo-leipzig.de


Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center, behavior and cognition research


Family:Species:Common Name:Capacity:
Pongidae Pan troglodytes Chimpanzee 10


In 1997 the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology offered to establish a branch for comparative behavioral observation of primates in Leipzig, thus paving the way for the construction of a new great apes' habitat at the zoo. The project's concept is a worldwide one-of-a-kind attempt to combine intensive scientific research with contemporary animal keeping and display. As part of the recreation of a research camp on the Ivory Coast and a jungle village, the habitat is the heart of "Pongoland", the first phase of the "Leipzig Zoo's 21" master plan targeted to be carried out over the next 15 years.

On about 30.000 m2 enclosures suited to the animals needs show part of the animals' habitats with about 60 animals. A large tropical house was constructed which is surrounded by five outdoor enclosures, two of which are used by the chimpanzees. In order to meet the demands of the scientists observation areas were set up, where they have a view of each individual preserve in its entirety without being disturbed by zoo guests. In order to offer optimal surroundings for apes and scientists a jungle was created replicating the apes' habitat in detail.

The barriers and walls of the building are made to look like embankments and rock walls. The roof has a thick covering of shrubs, bamboo, and large trees so that the architecture remains for the most part hidden. The space is divided by the east-west visitors' route. There are thus two enclosures on the north side and three on the south for the different groups of apes. The two storey tract in the north houses offices, project rooms, kitchen and toilet facilities of the Max Planck Institute on the ground floor as well as the two-storey technology center. The upper floor contains the zoo rooms such as feed kitchen, veterinary surgeon and X-ray room, staff room, workshop, storage rooms and toilet facilities. In the areas bordering the hall to the east and west are the rooms for looking after the animals. The ground floor primarily houses the animal retreat quarters and observation rooms. The upper storey contains sleeping quarters and observing rooms. The tropical house is covered by a transparent sheet roof, allowing optimal light and the necessary introduction of ultraviolet rays.

Total heat demand for the rooms was to be covered by static heating surfaces. Heating surfaces in the hall were installed in planted areas eight meters high above the floor, to ensure that these systems are not directly visible to the visitors. Control of the four heating circuits is carried out via the room temperature. A ventilation system is installed to circulate room air and to distribute heat. This ventilation system generates threefold air exchange. The system circulates 45,000 m3 of air per hour.



Exterior space is 24,705 m2 including exhibit area (about 12,210 m2), water moats (about 4,645 m2, 1.3 m deep and up to 10 m wide), visitor paths and green space (about 7,850 m2). The outdoor exhibit for young chimpanzees is 1,375 m2, the one for adult chimpanzees about 4,125 m2. The building is about 3,255 m2 including exhibits and dry moats (together 1,307 m2), planters indoors (581 m2) and a green roof (1,250 m2). Usable floor space of the building is 2,900 m2, volume about 34,000 m3. The tropic hall is 1,600 m2 and 12 to 19 m high. Indoor enclosures for young chimpanzees are 177 m2, those for adult chimpanzees 417 m2 including dry moats.

Space allocation in square meters:

Use:Indoors:Outdoors:Total Exhibit:



DM 31,000,000 including -1% for design.



March 2001



  • Architecture of the Primate Center: Dipl.-Ing. Herbert Kochta , Munich, Germany
  • Safari ride: Kraftwerk Living Technologies , Wels, Austria
  • Architecture, exterior space and exhibits: Rasbach Architects , Oberhausen, Germany


Beginning: May 1999

  • Illusion painting: Axel Krause, Leipzig, Germany
  • Supervision of exterior space: Ing.-Büro Klaus Roeder, Leipzig, Germany
  • Supervision of building: Ing. Dieter Ziner und Sohn, Krailling, Germany
  • Landscaping: Krahnstöver & Wolf GmbH, Grosspösna, Germany


walter.gif This is a climatic diagram for the closest weather station.



The primate park is located in the Rosental nature reserve and carries some valuable stock of trees which has been taken into consideration when planning. Up to 12 m tree trunks were added to the existing trees together with numerous shrubs, grasses and bamboo and rockwork, thus creating a habitat for apes.

The plants used outdoors are specified in the following list. The plants used indoors are listed in the presentations of orangutans and bonobos at Pongoland.

The plant list specifies the Latin names of the plants used for this exhibit.


Outdoor enclosures are separated from each other and the audience by shallow swampland rifts. Nets underneath the surface of the water are there to prevent any animals from drowning. The building serves only to provide the animals with the climatic conditions they need to live in all year round. Under the skin of the transparent roof, tropical temperatures and humidity can be maintained even in the winter months. Owning of primates under ideal conditions requires a minimum temperature in the hall of 22 °C during the winter months. In summer, the interior temperature must not climb above 32 °C. To imitate the primates' natural habitat to the greatest possible extent, humidity in the rooms should lie between 60% and 80% relative humidity of air. Patches of fog pervade the room and intensify the humid climate. The sleeping rooms were fitted with floor heating. Surface temperature in the cages is kept at a constant level of 25 °C. This is necessary for the apes' comfort. Temperature measurements are taken via probes built into the floor. When required the lighting system can lengthen the all too short days.

The habitats have natural flooring made of grass and sand. Jungle gyms made of tree trunks lashed together with bushropes, rocks and water ponds round off the items provided for the inhabitants.





Visitors can experience a simulated safari in Africa and see a mock-up of a researcher's camp. Then they travel from one habitat to another via strongly meandering forest paths and wooded foot bridges. However, from non of the vantage points will the individual guest have a complete view of the entire area once the lush, green vegetation has reached its final quality in a few years. Visitors become a part of the apes' environment and are separated from them only by wet and dry moats and, in some locations, shatterproof glass. Some of the observation huts jut out into the moats and enable one to have close contact with the animals.

The visitor enters the house through draught-excluding flap doors to where the ape enclosures open up biece for piece behind visitors' caves, dry ditches and plant areas on both sides of the path. On both sides of the visitors' caves are four research rooms that can be seen. Here the various stages of the research can be demonstrated to the public. After leaving the park, visitors end their adventure in a jungle village with a zoo shop, restaurants and snack bars, restroom facilities, and a petting zoo with African pets. Visitors may thus observe the apes in both their outdoor and indoor areas, and even observe some scientific studies as they take place.



A system of markers, some of which are interactive, provides the visitor with all the important information about the animal species and their habitats.



A separate quarantine building has been built to allow optimum preparation of new animals for integration into the existing inventory.



Research at the new Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center focuses on the behavior and cognition of the primates chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos. There is a special focus on the ontogeny of chimpanzee cognition. Researchers and students from the University of Leipzig, and other universities around the world conduct their research projects at the center guided by on-site personnel. Detailed descriptions may be found in the book "Primate Cognition" by Michael Tomasello and Josep Call, Oxford University Press, 1997.



Zoo Leipzig participates in EEP's for all apes.

The ventilation unit is equipped with a rotary heat exchanger that extracts heat and humidity from exhaust air and adds it to fresh air streaming into the building. In this way, use of energy for heating and humidifying purposes is reduced. Distribution of the air to perimeter outlets, positioned in planed areas, as well as redistribution to the technical room is carried out via underground pipes. Humidifying of the air in the hall is carried out via a nozzle system that works with partially softened water and compressed air. In summer the fine pulverization of water leads to its evaporation and causes cooling of the air. This adiabatic cooling method is a cost effective alternative to conventional cooling via refrigerating plants. During the summer months, and on sunny days during in-between seasons, ambient air is allowed to stream into the building via lower openings in the external walls and is carried off via lamellas in the roof construction. Through the continuous air stream, cooling of the room down to shadow air-temperatures outside of the building can be achieved. The air stream is controlled via the room temperature. The principle of buoyancy, which is caused due to the height differences in the building, is used.





© Zoo Leipzig, 2001


Site Plan

Site Plan

© Rasbach Architekten, 2001




© Gabler, 2001


Site plan

1. Site plan

© Zoo Leipzig, 2001


Tropical hall

2. Tropical hall

© Fiby, 2001


Observation hut

3. Observation hut

© Fiby, 2001


Field book

4. Field book

© Fiby, 2001


View back to the observation hut

5. View back to the observation hut

© Fiby, 2001


Observation hut from the animal side

6. Observation hut from the animal side

© Fiby, 2001


Another vantage point

7. Another vantage point

© Fiby, 2001



8. Foot-bridge

© Fiby, 2001



9. Nets

© Fiby, 2001


Outdoor exhibit

10. Outdoor exhibit

© Rasbach Architekten, 2001


Termite mound

11. Termite mound

© Fiby, 2001



12. Entrance

© Fiby, 2001


Entrance to the tropical hall

13. Entrance to the tropical hall

© Fiby, 2001



14. Entrance

© Fiby, 2001


View outside

15. View outside

© Fiby, 2001


Chimps indoors

16. Chimps indoors

© Rasbach Architekten, 2001


Indoor exhibit

17. Indoor exhibit

© Fiby, 2001



18. Traces

© Fiby, 2001



19. Calls

© Fiby, 2001


Young chimp outdoors

20. Young chimp outdoors

© Rasbach Architekten, 2001


Chimps outdoors

21. Chimps outdoors

© Rasbach Architekten, 2001


Outdoor exhibit

22. Outdoor exhibit

© Rasbach Architekten, 2001



© Rasbach Architekten, 2001



© Rasbach Architekten, 2001