Portrait photo of Schönbrunn Zoo director Stephan Hering-Hagenbeck
© Daniel Zupanc

"Nothing has changed for the animals"

Schönbrunn Zoo to re-open on May 15, 2020.

Schönbrunn Zoo has over two million visitors every year. But at the oldest zoo in the world and the best zoo in Europe, the everyday life of the animals has played out without visitors for many weeks now. Zoo director Stephan Hering-Hagenbeck told us what the situation means for the animals, why a long closure is a special challenge for a zoo, and how things will carry on at the zoo.

Mr. Hering-Hagenbeck, what does it feel like to walk through a zoo that has been empty of people for weeks.

It is without doubt a strange, almost surreal feeling. Where thrilled children and their families normally head to watch and experience seals, tigers and polar bears, there is currently a gaping emptiness. But the everyday routine has changed not only in the zoo but in many areas of our lives. Spring in the zoo is a particularly lovely time for me personally: the fresh green, flowering tulips, and the birth of many young animals. The next generation of ring-tailed lemurs, mhorr gazelles, and Vietnamese sika deer, among others, has just arrived. And our little polar bear girl Finja has grown another bit – but the visitors aren't there to see it! Of course, we're also getting lots of messages from disappointed fans of the zoo, who are unable to visit us and especially our animals at the moment.

Are the animals behaving differently nowadays?

Coronavirus represents a big challenge and adjustment for my team. For the animals, however, little has changed. The zookeepers are trying to compensate for the variety provided by the visitors by engaging with the animals even more. For zoo animals, the visitors are a part of their lives. They belong to their everyday routine. On the other hand, the native wild animals seem to be relishing the current situation. You now more often come across ducks having a nap in the middle of the visitor paths or on the grass in front of the Emperor's Pavilion.

What is particularly difficult about the current situation? What are the challenges you face?

The present situation is a really big challenge for all commercial enterprises! For zoological gardens, it is made worse by the fact that we have to continue paying most of our operating costs. We did really well in recent years, and I’m grateful to my predecessor in this respect. Nonetheless, we are now having to dip into our reserves, which we he had actually saved up for our new big aquarium project. Apart from the absent visitors, our animals have no sense of the crisis. Conversely, however, that means that most of our costs, such as staff, feed, energy and maintenance, continue as normal. Which is why we are so grateful to all our supporters. Many people are also supporting our animals through these difficult times with donations and sponsorships.

What does the current scenario mean for your workers?

I am very grateful to every single person in my team, because it is a very challenging time for each of them. Since April 1, 70 percent of our payroll has been on short time. We have very quickly been able to adjust our corporate structure to the new challenges. Only those workers who are needed to look after the animals and maintain the facilities are on site in the zoo: zookeepers, vets, zoological curators, technicians and various tradespeople. Each area has been divided up into independent teams that carry out their work in alternation. Only thanks to my fantastic team are we able to overcome this exceptional situation. Everyone was immediately prepared to adjust to the new regime. We are really fortunate that not a single person in the entire team has come down with the virus so far. This is not least because all of our employees are taking a very responsible approach to dealing with the situation.

How are things going with a substitute program? Can the virtual space be an alternative to visiting the zoo?

The virtual space is a reasonable alternative for us but only to a very limited degree. As a zoological garden, we're all about the real experience. With all the senses! We intensified our animal experience in the virtual setting immediately after the zoo closed. With the campaign "From zoo to you – Greetings from Schönbrunn Zoo", we bring our animals into the homes of our zoo's fans via social media with photos and videos. The campaign is a big success because so many people are missing our animals and would like to keep in touch with life at the zoo. And, of course, because animals are a very positive subject, which I think we can all do with right now. But even a very well presented virtual experience can't replace the real experience of a visit to the zoo.

What are you looking forward to the most when the crisis is over?

I'm already looking forward to when get back a bit of what we used to take for granted and that the crisis teaches us to appreciate it all even more. As far as Schönbrunn Zoo is concerned, I am particularly looking forward to when we can perform our main task again, of inspiring people about and with our animals and winning them over for nature and species conservation.

Schönbrunn Zoo Entrance via Hietzinger Tor/Hietzinger Hauptstraße

Schönbrunner Schlosspark, 1130 Wien
  • Vienna City Card

  • Opening times

    • daily, 09:00 - 17:30
  • Accessibility

    • Main entrance
      • no steps (Swinging doors )
    • Car parks Main entrance
      • Parking spaces for people with disabilities
        at Elisabethallee, entrance Tirolerhof
    • Further information
      • Seeing eye dogs allowed
      • Wheelchair accessible restroom available.
    • Special offers for people with disabilities

      Tours for visitors with disabilities and special needs on request.

    • Comments

      Access to buildings and enclosures without steps or via ramp.

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