Pandas would boost Prague zoo’s prestige and attendance, says director

Panda, photo: archive of Radio Prague

The Prague authorities have just approved funding for the city’s zoo that will go in part toward the creation of a new enclosure for giant pandas. The zoo is reported to be in line to receive two pandas from China – and its management expect the rare animals to boost visitor numbers markedly.

Panda,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
On Wednesday Prague City Hall approved funding of almost CZK 850 million for the city’s zoo over the next five years.

Of that amount, around a quarter has been earmarked for the construction of a “pandárium”, or enclosure for giant pandas.

The zoo is reported to be in line for the loan of a pair of pandas from China, following a warming of relations between Prague and Beijing in recent years.

The newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Wednesday that negotiations on acquiring the mammals could go relatively quickly.

For his part, zoo director Miroslav Bobek played down the international relations aspect in an interview on Czech Radio’s Plus station.

Miroslav Bobek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“It’s been turned into politics. But our original idea had a different starting point than what is being discussed at great length today. We have a polar bear enclosure, but it’s from the 1930s so today it’s no longer suitable, unfortunately. We were wondering what to put in their place and came to the conclusion: pandas. So the initial reason was different. However, pandas are important to us for several reasons.”

Prague zoo is already doing well. Last year TripAdvisor ranked it as the second best zoological garden in Europe and the fourth best in the world.

But if and when Prague zoo joins the other five in Europe that possess pandas its prestige – and that of the Czech state – will grow even further, says Mr. Bobek. What’s more, visitor numbers should immediately shoot up.

Prague zoo,  photo: Tomáš Adamec
“Basically it’s an animal that attracts people. And my task is to ensure attendance is as high as possible. Other zoos have seen numbers rise by 50 or 40 percent in the initial months after opening panda enclosures; those numbers fall off but attendance still remains higher… There are now pandas at five European zoos, though Copenhagen and Berlin are going to get them soon – we don’t want to be left behind!”

Mladá fronta Dnes reported that Prague zoo could receive up to half a million more visitors a year if it acquires the pandas. That would increase revenues by around CZK 83 million annually, some CZK 50 million more than it would cost to loan and look after the animals.