Growing old gracefully

Meet our golden oldies

“Out with the old and in with the new” is a common expression at this time of year. But many old things are cherished, and we want to keep them for as long as we can. Among those are most definitely our beloved older animals at Tierpark Berlin.

A retirement home for animals

The phenomenon of elderly animals really only occurs where animals are kept in the care of humans. In the wild, these creatures would not usually live long enough to develop age-related ailments such as cancer, cataracts or arthritis. Natural selection ensures that sick or decrepit individuals quickly die off. They are either caught by predators, ousted by rivals, or starve because they are unable to catch sufficient food. In the luxurious setting of a zoo, on the other hand, where there are regular meals, good medical care, and no predators, animals can live up to a third longer than they would in their natural habitat. That means zoo animals often exhibit signs of old age that are rarely or never witnessed in the wild.

Young at heart

In old age, bodies no longer work as well as they did in younger years – they also exhibit visible signs of ageing. This can be a PR challenge for zoos, as visitors are often concerned when they see a bony old horse or a toothless gorilla. But, just like humans, many animals still lead healthy and happy lives in their old age. They may have the odd twinge here or there, but thanks to regular house calls from the doctor, the senior citizens at Zoo and Tierpark Berlin generally enjoy their twilight years in safe, comfortable surroundings.

Age before beauty

Tierpark Berlin is proud of its golden oldies and certainly has no desire to hide them away. Old age and death are as much a part of the circle of life as birth. So the next time you meet one of the doddery denizens of Tierpark Berlin, be sure to take a moment to congratulate them on reaching such a grand old age!

Allow us to introduce Tierpark Berlin’s three oldest animals:

1. Pythagoras the bare-eyed cockatoo (at least 64)

No one knows exactly when Pythagoras hatched. All we know is that he arrived at Zoo Frankfurt on 8 May 1953, and that he came from there to Tierpark Berlin on 15 July 1964. That means Pythagoras became a Berliner just one year after John F. Kennedy announced the same about himself!

Mao the Chinese alligator (at least 62)

There are many legends surrounding the dinosaur among Tierpark Berlin’s reptiles, but no one really knows the origins of Chinese alligator Mao. The 1.7-metre-long saurian came to Tierpark Berlin on 18 May 1957 as a gift from Beijing Zoo. Mao was once a splendid specimen, but now, aged at least 62, he has become somewhat frail.

3. Turkey vultures Waltraud and Hermann (58)

Third place on the list of the Tierpark’s oldest inhabitants is shared by turkey vulture couple Waltraud and Hermann, who are both 58 years old. They hatched in Winnipeg in 1959, and came to Tierpark Berlin on 20 May 1961. Waltraud continued to regularly lay fertilised eggs until the age of 49. One of her chicks, who hatched in 1996, still lives at Tierpark Berlin. That lucky bird never had to leave the nest and still gets to live at home with both its parents!

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