Feeding the crocodiles and even swimming with them has been one of the main attractions of a unique German zoo. However, a court ruling says the reptiles must be separated from the visitors.
“Only here you get the opportunity not only to see and observe crocodiles up close, but also to ‘understand’ them,” reads the website of the Crocodile Zoo in the city of Friedberg, Germany. Unique experiences under a guide’s watch include breakfast buffet in the enclosure with the crocodiles, and swimming with them – the latter being for adults only.
To get even closer, “particularly daring” guests can place their heads inside a 3.5-meter crocodile’s mouth.
While these activities are available for those 18 and older, children can also participate by having a birthday party in the crocodile zoo and getting a souvenir photo with the reptiles.
In August, a nature conservation agency in Darmstadt’s regional council banned the zoo from allowing guests into areas with no barriers between the animals and people, unless it informs the adult visitors of the potential dangers, according to media reports.
However, the zoo owner appealed the decision, claiming there were no incidents with visitors in the past, and that the crocodiles and alligators are tame and pose no danger.
A court in Giessen rejected the appeal on Thursday, saying they were a “dangerous wild species” and should not be allowed to walk around freely in front of visitors. The decision is not final. The zoo may file an appeal with the Hesse Administrative Court within two weeks.
Wishing to change the image of crocodiles as being “evil monsters,” Rene Retz founded the zoo in 2001 and has now been working with crocodiles and other reptiles for more than 30 years, the zoo’s website reads. While most of the inhabitants were reportedly born in the zoo, German media reports that the one which performs risky “head trick” is an over 60-year-old alligator Ali. Albino alligator Whitey is another star, which would most probably be doomed in the wild. The zoo’s numerous pools, caves, and terrariums also house snakes, iguanas, and giant turtles, which roam freely inside the zoo.