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Xavier Vaillant, directeur du zoo de Lyon

Behind the scenes at Lyon Zoo

Xavier Vaillant, zoo manager

Located in the heart of Tête d’Or Park Lyon's zoo boasts some 65 species, half of which are close to extinction. Preparing food rations, scheduling the reproduction of rare species and welcoming newcomers: Xavier Vaillant takes us behind the scenes of this 8 hectare zoo. 

What is the distinctive feature of the zoo in Lyon?

Our zoo is unusual on three levels. First, it is located in  Tête d’Or Park , which is the largest urban park in Europe. Secondly, it is free, which is extremely rare. And finally, it is part of a European breeding programme. More than half of the 65 species exhibited throughout the 8 hectares are close to extinction in their natural habitat. We are contributing towards protecting these species by organising their reproduction and rearing and exchanging them with other European zoos. 

What route would you suggest taking to visit the zoo?

We organise  visits behind the scenes  to discover life in the wings and the work of our 25 employees. The visit presents the bird-rearing area, the incubators, the hatching area, and the jobs performed by those in charge of caring for animals. For instance, at the moment we are rearing Manchurian cranes in partnership with choreographer Luc Petton, who aims to include them in his new contemporary ballet!

We also let people into the courtyard of the big cats' house, which is our residents' canteen. This helps people to understand that each different animal has its own diet, which must be respected.

Which of the zoo's residents are the most well-known?

Our most senior resident, Lulu, who is a 59-year-old female gibbon, is one of the characters the inhabitants of Lyon come to see most regularly. We are also particularly attached to Kissa, a giraffe born last year. And finally, when I arrived in Lyon, I discovered a particularly endearing species: the Garrulax Courtoisi. This small bird, which is native to China, has a very unusual biology for a bird, as their young are reared by both parents jointly. Today only 300 remain in China; this is a very rare species. 

What other activities are on offer in Tête d’Or Park?

Within the park's 117 hectares, there's a  'Guignol' puppet show , quads, a miniature train, a miniature golf course, and roundabouts… You can also visit one of the largest  botanical gardens  in France, a magnificent  rose garden , and enjoy the lake, which spans over 20 hectares.





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