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Exceptional projects need charismatic leaders with the courage to strike out in new directions. One such individual is the director of Leipzig Zoo, Jörg Junhold.

“All the animal enclosures will be modernised by 2020. The zoo operates on a climate-neutral basis in compliance with strict environmental standards. We’ve made a huge contribution to the global protection of wildlife and our visitors can experience exotic worlds containing different animal and plant species. There’s nowhere else like it in Europe,” says Prof. Jörg Junhold, the director of Leipzig Zoo. The 50-year-old has dedicated himself to turning his vision into reality, armed with boundless energy, considerable charisma, quiet confidence in his own abilities and a determination to get things done. He has given the master plan for remodelling and expanding Leipzig Zoo the title “Zoo of the Future”. When all the work is finally completed in five years’ time, “we will have completely transformed the zoo,” says the director.

Thinking outside the box and daring to do something different

Many of Junhold’s suggestions for the zoo sound slightly bizarre at first. For example, in the late 1990s he came up with the idea of Gondwanaland – a huge jungle right in the middle of the city. “It was just a crazy dream to start with. We spent twelve years planning it and three and a half years building it. It was a real adventure in every sense,” says Junhold, smiling as he wanders through the lush tropical plant habitat. Around 100 animal species now inhabit Gondwanaland’s 16,500 square metres. Exotic plants flourish in the humid temperature of 26 degrees Celsius. So how do you go about getting an idea like this off the ground? “By thinking outside the box,” responds Junhold promptly. After the reunification of Germany, Junhold, a qualified veterinarian, worked in an American company for five years. “Their motto was ‘No limits!’ – it had a huge impact on me,” he says.

Twelve-meter-high suspended walkways: having the courage to embrace new ideas

When working on a new concept for the zoo, an idea is put forward first, followed by a thorough exploration of the technical and zoological aspects. Financial issues are only addressed at the end. Junhold and his team of zoologists, vets, marketing experts and futurologists are used to taking an unconventional approach. In Gondwanaland, for example, visitors walk along 12-metre-high suspended walkways from which they enjoy breathtaking views of the jungle landscape below. Innovative ideas like this enable Leipzig Zoo to attract two million animal lovers a year from all over Germany. Junhold gives his visitors a fantastic educational leisure experience, where every detail has been carefully considered.

Unique Gondwanaland: architecture and climate control technology in harmony

Architecture and climate control technology complement each other perfectly in Gondwanaland. The roof is a cantilevered steel structure clad with film cushions which allow sunlight and heat to pass through. Energy accumulates in a 100,000-litre geothermal energy store and is used at night for heating. A sophisticated heating and watering system produces the tropical climate in accordance with strict environmental standards. Huge water tanks with a total capacity of 640 cubic metres collect rainwater to irrigate the plants. Jörg Junhold says: “It’s not enough for us simply to talk about sustainability and protecting the environment; we need to live it in practice.”

In the 15 years since Junhold took over as director, Leipzig Zoo has been transformed from a traditional zoo with concrete pens and mesh fencing into a nature park with a variety of habitats suitable for many different animal and plant species. It is now one of the top three most popular zoos in Germany.