Rotterdam Zoo (NL): Marc Damen, CEO

Marc Damen, CEO at Rotterdam Zoo
Marc Damen, CEO at Rotterdam Zoo

Marc Damen: "Cranes like flowers in a vase? Not attractive!"

"Good morning, nice to see you again.” Rotterdam Zoo’s general manager Marc Damen greets an elderly lady that is enjoying a warm and sunny spring day in the zoo with her grandson. “I want our visitors to feel welcome and content: only then they keep coming back.” Marc is on his way to the North American raccoon exhibit near the main entrance, which is occupied by a large group of rescued animals.

In 2013 about 1.5 million people visited Rotterdam Zoo. As a gift of a local insurance company, the zoo was offered to be the temporary primary sponsor of national football club Feyenoord. With the exceptionally successful launch of zoo mascot Olli (a soft toy elephant) by ex-Feyenoord player and local favourite Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Marc saw a significant growth in visitor numbers. And with that comes a feeling of responsibility: “Our visitors expect high quality. New investments focus on creating surprising and intimate experiences, but at the same time our exhibits and infrastructure need to cope with high visitor numbers”, Marc explains while passing a large free flight aviary for vultures, marabous and cranes. “In the past we kept only cranes. They were like flowers in a vase. Boring. Now, I see people also pointing at vultures flying overhead. That is exciting!”

Arriving at the raccoon enclosure, Marc continues his vision: “Look, I am really all for nature conservation. As a member of EAZA’s EEP Committee I strongly believe that zoos should improve their efforts in safeguarding ex-situ populations of species that are highly endangered in the wild. But, I also need to bring home the bacon. Take it or leave it, this zoo needs to be financially healthy to achieve its idealistic goals. So, I consciously choose to keep a mix of both EEP and non-recommended species that are public favourites.”

Raccoons from AAP at Rotterdam Zoo
Raccoons from AAP at Rotterdam Zoo

Rotterdam Zoo’s complex open top 400 m2 raccoon exhibit is right next to a large self service restaurant and gift shop. “I need people to be relaxed here. Have lunch with a smile on their faces. There is always something nice to look at: a raccoon close by searching for food at the water’s edge, two others leisurely swimming past. A bunch of them sunbathing on the tin roof of the Alaskan logging hut.” Right on cue a raccoon sticks out his head out of the window as if to say: yes, you are so right. “Would I choose to build this again? Yes, without a doubt. It is a big success with our visitors, and still a highly responsible alternative to the conservation stories elsewhere in the zoo.”

Fact: a vast majority of AAP’s outplacement network has future plans to keep adding new non endangered species to their animal collections.

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