Return to Het Dinobos

Attraction Review

I’ve been having a pretty crazy summer, so when a dear friend of mine offered to take me to Dierenpark Amersfoort, a lovely, lush, forested zoo in the town of the same name, I jumped at the chance. Within the zoo is a bit of forest dedicated to dinosaurs: Marc visited for the first time in 2011, and I’ve been a few times as well. I was wondering if anything had changed and how the pandemic measures would affect my experience.

The Dinobos (dino forest) was originally meant to be temporary, as this area of the zoo was planned to house a large rescue facility for chimpanzees. For some reason, this was prevented by animal rights activists, so the chimps are still housed in a somewhat small enclosure at the start of the park (I find animal rights logic hard to follow sometimes). As a result, the Dinobos has been a permanent fixture of the zoo for 13 years now.

Corona measures mean that we have to take the route in reverse order, which means that we start in the Late Cretaceous to eventually end up somewhere in the Devonian. This is simultaneously very counterintuitive – after all, every book on prehistoric life starts in the past most remote and moves forward in time – and yet it makes a strange kind of sense to start at the K/T boundary and go back in time further and further, doesn’t it? Brownie points to any author who dares construct a book that way.

So instead of building up to the moment where we finally face the mighty Tyrannosaurus, we are greeted by her straight away. It’s not the best Rexy I’ve ever seen, but not the worst either. It’s certainly no blatant JP ripoff – the park actually downplays any and all movie refereces, which is quite refreshing – and it’s not roaring away with its mouth open either. It’s just a nice naturalistic Rex.

And look, in another sweeping move against the dreaded monsterization, Rexy’s been given babies! I don’t think they are particularly accurate but who cares, they’re cute! Also: note how the Rex is placed inside of the giant tortoise enclosure! The tortoises can move close and walk all around the model, though the pebbles probably prevent them from getting too close – they are powerful animals and could probably destroy the babies.

We’ve seen so many version of the old Wolter Styracosaurusthe one with the Elasmotherium horn between the eyes – that it’s almost a revelation to see a sleek, modern, updated one from what I believe to be the same firm! It’s a pretty great model, and I like how so many of the dinosaurs have babies! Aww. Actually, I’m pretty sure those are Triceratops babies, but still. This Styracosaurus will make an amazing foster parent. Either that, or it’s a master kidnapper.

Marc noted last time that the decent and durable fibreglass dinosaurs from Wolter Design were, ahem, “complemented” by the odd rubbish animatronic. Over the years, these must surely have proven their true quality, as only a few of them remain and none move anymore. This is one of the lucky few that made it this far, its jaw permanently dislocated into the derpiest grin no Corythosaurus ever wore better. Still not the worst robot hadrosaur I’ve ever seen.

A common excuse I keep hearing for parks still putting naked maniraptorans in, is that feathers don’t last in heavy weather. Fair enough, but you don’t have to use actual soft feathers, do you? You could make a fibreglass bird just fine, you’d just render a featherlike structure into the sculpt (I may be slightly mucking up the terminology here, but dammit Jim I’m a philosopher not an artist). This way, you could make a feathered dinosaur the same way you make a scaly one. Above: some “feathered” troodonts. Bless them. They’re trying. Still well off, but trying.

Albert is also here. Quite rare to see one of these in a dino park, and it’s a pretty nice model, too. That’s actually one of the DinoBos’ greatest strengths: it’s not just your A grade celebrity dinosaurs, but guys like Albertosaurus, Centrosaurus, Leptoceratops, Scelidosaurus and Kentrosaurus too. Guest will come away from this park with a renewed understanding of how diverse these animals were.

Take what I said about Troodon and double that for this Velociraptor. Okay, so it’s the right size, it’s, again, definitely not a JP ripoff and it’s, um, feathered, I guess. I should really give them points for trying, and yet… this is still so very far removed from the way it should be done! It’s like someone listened to the complaints, but not the corrections. If you try so hard to get Velociraptor right, why stop halfway and not go the extra mile to really get it right? To really make it into the big predatory bird it was? Here’s a hot take: Maybe I prefer naked maniraptorans over ugly, badly feathered ones. The latter only serve to re-inforce the trite stereotype that Feathers Are Lame.

Anyway, I’m done being all negative Nancy down here because holy crap. This Brachiosaurus / Giraffatitan is seriously awesome. I’ve seen slightly scaled-down sauropods that still look impressive, but this is the real deal. If I have anything to moan about – and you know I always do – it’s that it’s hard to photograph. Its head is way up in the canopy and it’s hard to get a good angle from a distance with all that foliage. Well, cry me a river. I bet a real live sauropod would have been a nightmare to try and photograph (I’ve run into this issue in several museum galleries, too). I’d like more palaeoart to reflect that, actually.

You know, it’s the details that really separate an okay dinosaur from a great one, and in this case, they’ve got the hands right! That almost never happens. Sauropod hands are truly weird and unique, something we all know around these parts but hardly common knowledge. Models like this are great!

And here’s beautiful Diplodocus, which my better half has declared her Favourite Dinosaur. Such a lucky one! Yes, if you are involved with me, you need a Favourite Dinosaur sooner or later (even though I myself infamously don’t have one because I can never choose). It’s as spectacular as the brachiosaur, plus this one has a head you can actually see!

They can’t all be winners, not even the sauropods. Oof. This is a tough one. We often talk about “shrinkwrapping” these days and this skeletal creep (it’s meant to be Europasaurus) is one of the most extreme examples I’ve ever seen. This is a face where even Ely Kish would tell it to get some meat on its bones.

The Triassic gives us the Two Ususal Suspects but here, in the Permian, we find a particularly intriguing critter. It is identified as “Protosaurus“, which to my knowledge is not valid genus, but I can accept that it might be a misspelling of Protorosaurus. Not the most unreasonable mistake to make, so we’ll let it slide. The provided despription says it’s ancestral to dinosaurs, pterosaurs and crocodiles, so that seems to check out.

Overall, I’m feeling the herbivores a bit more than the carnivores in this park.

Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Dierenpark Amersfoort (its website can be found here). The weather was lovely, as was the company, and the zoo remains as pretty and lush as ever. Particular favourites today were the Himalayan monals, the Indian rhinoceroses and the prairie dogs, one of which bit my girlfriend on the toe and another gnawed a hole in my pants. Cheeky little things! The corona measures were not particularly stern or intrusive, but the crowds were just light enough for it not to be much of a problem. Give the park a visit if you’re in the area! It’s about half an hour away from Utrecht.

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  • Reply
    August 16, 2020 at 10:29 am

    When I was a little kid, I read a book called “The Incredible Journey to the Beginning of Time” by Nicholas Harris from 1997. That book did go backward in time with each page, though most of it was dedicated to human history. Also agree with your sentiment about crappy feathered dinosaur models. I’d take JP ripoffs (maybe even JW ripoffs) over some disgusting looking museum model raptor with “feathers” sticking out in every direction.

  • Reply
    Timur Sivgin
    August 16, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    Journey to the beginning of Time by Karel Zeman was a movie where kids have a time-travelling boat and follow a river backwards in time from the Pleistocene until they‘re at the Cambrian ocean. I recommend checking it out as it had some interesting effects for the time and designs heavily inspired by Zdenek Burian. The Ancestor‘s Tale by Richard Dawkins also comes to mind.

    • Reply
      Andreas Jim
      August 24, 2020 at 3:31 am

      A wonderful movie, particularly for kids like me who grew up in the GDR where access to paleo-related media was scarce. Luckily there are a couple of copies on youtube: The effects include lots stop motion creatues, a hand puppet Trachodon and a paper-cut Styracosaurus. I find the Phorusrhacos chase sequence particularly well executed.

      • Reply
        Štěpán Jindra
        November 2, 2020 at 5:03 am

        Its a masterpiece. Few years ago a book called Plutonia was released in ČSSR. Bunch of soviet scientists enters the inner side of the earth through the caves in the poles and discovered there epoches in the same order. It was also ilustrated by Zdeněk Burian and in my opinion it directly inspired Karel Zeman.
        For example:

        Have a copy at home.

      • Reply
        Niels Hazeborg
        November 2, 2020 at 4:09 pm

        Between that guy and Svankmajer, there’s a lot of great Czech stop-motion cinema! Is there a subtitled version somewhere? My Czech is somewhat rusty.

  • Reply
    Marc Vincent
    August 18, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    Aw, I miss the Netherlands. 🙁 Hopefully it’ll be taken off our useless government’s quarantine list before too long. In any case, I’ve only visited Dierenpark Amersfoort the once (unlike Burgers and the Apenheul) but I remember being very impressed by the Dinobos (and less impressed by the bear and chimp enclosures). It was my first encounter with more modern Wolter Design models. We have a few over here now, notably in Port Lympne zoo, but sadly not that highly impressive brachiosaur. I reviewed the Port Lympne lot back in 2016, and it’s interesting to compare the models:

    • Reply
      Niels Hazeborg
      August 18, 2020 at 1:26 pm

      I know houw you feel, I’ve been missing the UK (and travel in general). I hope you can visit soon, Corona volente. Funny thing: there’s another zoo in the Netherlands that has that very same brachiosaur! It’s GaiaZoo in Kerkrade. I haven’t visited in a while, so either I have to visit again or I’d have to extrapolate a review from memory. They’ve got some pretty bizarre dinosaurs.

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