The Vientiane Zoo is the only 'official' zoo in Laos. There are captive animals on display in other locations I have visited however. Vientiane Zoo is located in beautiful countryside some 65 Km from the city of Vientiane. The zoo itself has a variety of names amongst which are the Vientiane Zoo, Lao Zoo, Tulakhom Inter Zoo and Ban Keun Zoological Park. They actually make a bit of sense in that the zoo is located in Ban Keun (Ban Kern), Tulakhom district in the Vientiane Province of Lao. Such a variety of names however could lead one to believe that there are several zoos in Laos.
The Zoo was first established in 1994 and largely as a tourist attraction. Originally it was a 60% private and 40% government concern but the government dropped out in 2003.. It struggles financially and without foreign visitors it would be unlikely to remain open. A generous donation by Japan's Toyota company served to improve the accommodation for the zoos most famous resident, the white elephant 'Phrayachaiyamongkol'.
This small collection supposedly has a staff of 80 and keeps some 2000 animals. Photographs on the internet from 1998 show that the zoo has progressed during the past ten years or so.
A visit to the zoo from Vientiane by cycle has been suggested by websites such as http://www.wikiloc.com/ and I can only agree wholeheartedly with the suggestion. Much of the 65 Km route to the zoo is through strikingly beautiful countryside and small villages. In parts it is like a step back in time. Alternatives are to arrange a taxi or transport through your hotel. The zoo is open from 08.30 to 16.00 every day.
Elephants in Asia symbolise good luck and White Elephants especially so. I have seen a few claimed white elephants in my travels but none that actually was white till I met the magnificent Phrayachaiyamongkol in Lao Zoo. He really is white...well white in comparison to a normal coloured grey elephant standing next to him.
I thought actually that I would miss him because I found the elephant stable closed and a sign hanging on the gate to say 'Elephant in Musth'. A little further on was a second stable and there he was. Temporal glands running dark and staining his cheeks. His 'elephanthood' showing his thoughts. But such a gentle beast it turned out. If I saw nothing else on this trip I would have been happy. As most will know, I am not into freaks of nature but I don't put white elephants into that category.
My only regret was that my very poor digital camera is giving up the ghost and failed to do justice when photographing this impressive animal.
White Again and then Black
Staying with the white theme there is practically always an attempt in Asian collections to collect as many albinolike as possible and here was no exception. Except for one. A melanistic Golden Cat Felis (Catopuma)Temmincki. Unusual yes but I do recollect seeing one somewhere before.
I had not however seen a White Leopard Cat before this visit.
As a 'struggling' zoo the Lao zoo is exceptionally good. True enough there are some awful, old fashioned and dangerous looking exhibits. Trap off facilities are so essential. On the other hand though there were some exceedingly good enclosures and that for the Asiatic Black Bears must come into my top five ever. So often they get short shrift and are confined to horrors but this was wonderful.
Views of the Asiatic Black Bear Enclosure
The Kangaroo Macropus antilopinus enclosure was another good one. It was beautiful and the animals within it were in exceptional condition. I would go as far as to say it was one of the best Kangaroo enclosures I have seen anywhere. A close second would have been the Australian walk thru enclosure at the long closed Cleethorpes Zoo and Marineland.
Considering the Kangaroos were presented by the Australian Government way back in 1996 then they are doing exceedingly well with them in comparison to some other collections I can think of.
The Crocodile enclosures were roomier than most and lacked the rotting meat stench that is so often encountered.
The Gibbon islands were nice too and the foliage so thick on the trees it would have been very easy to miss the occupants.
One of the Large Trees in Vientiane Zoo
It was early afternoon when I visited this delightful little collection. Myself, my driver and a girl I met at the hotel were the only visitors. Although I appreciated the fact that we were alone I thought it a pity at the same time.
The collection is neat, tidy and clean. Partly pathed, partly boardwalked and sometimes mud pathed it was an enjoyable collection to walk round. The gardens were nice. So too were the larger trees.
Barriers are ample and adequate. Toilets clean. A nice little gift shop. Places to eat.
The signage was there. Practically everything had a sign on it but it was limited and very precise. Funny at times too.
Some of the signage
Whereas I fully understand and appreciate the need for commercialism in zoos to survive I hate those who lie and cheat to line their pockets under a conservation banner. There are many of these. (To be honest I don't know which I dislike more purely commercial zoos or anti-zoo organisations who lie and dupe the public to line their own pockets.)
Lao Zoo is a commercial zoo but it is different. It does not have enough surplus cash to get seriously into conservation, education or research but it does what it does so well. It is a nice little zoo. It should be helped to survive. Donations of informative signage (bearing in mind that tourists are the main visitors), of educational materials, enrichment items and similar would help. Any large zoo adopting all or part of Lao Zoo would be doing good.