Dinosaurs and zoos, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. A lot of the major zoos in the Netherlands have some sort of dinosaur presence, from the beautiful sculputures at Artis Amsterdam to the Dinobos at Amersfoort (remind me to talk about GaiaZoo’s Dino Dome someday). Not to be outdone, the small, regional zoo known as ZooParc Overloon has been taken over by animatronic dinosaurs for the autumn of 2020.
The dinosaurs are some of the ones also found this year at an expo in Utrecht, which I declined to go to because, at over 20 euros, it seems more than a tad overpriced. Here, I get to enjoy / make fun of the same dinosaurs for a much more reasonable fee, and I get to spend a day at the zoo to boot! There’s a free tip for any other Dutch bean counters who might be reading.
The advertisement, starring everybody’s favourite, the infamous Papo T. rex, promises nothing but the best kind of tacky wackiness, and ZooParc does not disappoint.
Oh my. We’re not even in yet and the Dilophosaurus that greets us by the entrance already sets the tone for what’s to come. Sometimes, a dinosaur expo proves to be filled with unexpectedly good quality dinosaur models. And sometimes, it’s Chinese styrofoam rubbish and JP-clichés all around.
Not that I’m not deeply intrigued by this Dilo. The Jurassic Park frill is not a sign of commitment to palaeontological accuracy, of course, but there has at least been an attempt to make a real Dilophosaurus here; it’s proper big and it does have the rosette-shaped upper jaw that characterizes the Dilo skull. Take away the frill, and you’ve got… still a pretty dodgy looking robot. Let’s not kid ourselves here.
Let’s do Rexy next, why not. As majestic as she looks, photographed from a low angle in the cold autumn light, this is close to the top of my list of “ugliest tyrannosaurs I’ve ever seen”. It’s got a skinny belly and a gigantic behind, a saggy throat and a floppy, overlong jaw that makes its nose look stumpy. Everytime anything gets even remotely close to it, the jaw moves a few inches and the roar sound from JP plays, over and over. It gets pretty annoying pretty quickly. Yeah, I kind of wish this WAS the Papo T. rex!
Oviraptor is also here, being a good-for-nothing egg thief! Or is it? There’s some signage to go along with the dinosaur models that isn’t particularly good but at least acquits Oviraptor of nest raiding. At least one cliché is being avoided. Also, featherless though she is, the hand palms are, by pure accident, facing inwards! Score!
Speaking of clichés: of course we’re gonna run into a big herbivore being attacked by a pack of vicious, naked dromaeosaurs! Only…
…I never expected it to be Stegosaurus!
Well, congratulations. I’ve seen something I didn’t expect. Stegosaurus – shaped like a hippo and given plates so big they could be wings – is threatened by none other than Velociraptor, and looking mighty confused with it. What are those knife-footed monsters from the future doing here?
As for Velociraptor itself… it looks pretty much as one would expect. Stark naked, snake eyes, pronated forelimbs, gigantic, bulky feet and roaring away. Sadly, this is not even close to topping my “ugliest Velociraptor I’ve ever seen” list.
The person who took this photo asked me to visually express my feelings.
But wait! We are not done with Velociraptor! A little further ahead, we meet this one, the one that immediately made me go “it has feathers!” Um. Is this… better? I mean, it’s not good, but is this not at least better, somehow? I’m not convinced.
Pterosaurs! Can’t skip ’em. I bet you all can guess, just from looking at it, exactly what sound this one makes (no, not eagle. Red-tailed hawk). Though it’s clearly meant to be Pteranodon, its signage identifies it as Pterodactylus and places it in Jurassic Europe. That’s the level of know-how you can expect from the signs. Its wings flap not unlike plastic bags in the wind, but at least it doesn’t have bat wings! Baby steps, people.
Here is the one dinosaur that I couldn’t recognize at a glance. Until now, the dinosaurs have been predictable, low-quality depictions of clichés: not dinosaurs as they were, but dinosaurs as people expect them to be. But this? Does it help if I tell you this model stands about as tall as my waist? It’s supposed to be Maiasaura, but – apart from the young being there – there’s very little about the robot that is identifiable as such.
Sauropods to the rescue, then? Even if they aren’t pretty at least we’ve got something with some imposing scale, right? Well, while the rearing Amargasaurus towers over the pathway in a way that few dinosaurs at the expo do, it’s also a complete freaking mess. There’s double sails along the neck – the sails are a palaeoart trend that grew too mighty, so it had to make it into pop culture – in addition to a mini-Spinosaurus sail on the back. Its head is shrinkwrapped and its hands are elephantine. At least I can appreciate a nice, flamboyant colour scheme. Well done. This might be the best one.
Making fun of budget dinosaurs isn’t the highest form of entertainment at the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. The truth is, zoos have been hit hard by the crisis, so I want to end on a positive note. While I’m not going to act like the Dino Weeks expo is anything great, please don’t take any of this as criticisms of ZooParc Overloon itself. I like zoos, and I like ZooParc. It’s small, but certainly not tiny. It has some big crowd-pleasing animals, like lions, tigers and giraffes, alongside your usual small-zoo fare such as meerkats, squirrel monkeys and lemurs. ZooParc’s signature exhibit is a large Australian Outback walkthrough with freeroaming wallabies, kangaroos and even emu! How’s that for a dinosaur encounter? Those things are pretty impressive if there’s no barrier separating them from you.
The animals look well cared for, the enclosures are well presented and lush, there’s a lot of educational content on nature conservation, and we got to see some great displays from the animals. If there’s any knock against Zoo Parc, it’s that it’s not a great park for bad weather; very little is indoors and the paths have a tendency to get muddy in the rain. Other than that, we had a great time. Overall, I recommend ZooParc Overloon.