Unfortunately the first visitors weren’t rewarded for their wild enthusiasm; Heidi, possibly intimidated by the crowds, wedged herself into the hollow of her tree and gazed out coolly with her famous squint.
“She’s just enchanting,” said Leipzig Mayor Burkhard Jung.
The three-year-old Heidi has become famous around the world, with more than 326,000 Facebook friends, for her adorably crooked eyes. With her fame rising around the same time that Germany’s beloved polar bear Knut died, she has been regarded as a natural successor as a media phenomenon.
Since living in the Gondwanaland Tropical Experience World, as it is officially titled, Heidi has found a partner Teddy who, like Heidi herself, was brought to Leipzig from a Danish zoo.
Heidi had become an ambassador for the Saxon city, Mayor Jung said.
“That has completely surprised us – above all, how long the hype has lasted,” he said.
Among other star turns, Heidi was used as a Paul-the-octopus-style oracle to predict the results of this year’s Oscars – making her famous in the United States. Paul, eerily, also died recently.
As the Gondwanaland enclosure opened to the public, the queue was about 250 metres long.
“I just wanted to be the first,” said 42-year-old fireman Ralph Aulich from Hoyerswerda, who arrived at the zoo entrance at 4:45 am.
The largest project at the Leipzig Zoo, Gondwanaland has taken more than three years to complete. It contains 17,000 trees and plants and 300 animals. It is named after the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, which began to break up about 200 million years ago to begin forming part of today’s modern continents.
It is intended to give an insight into threatened ecosystems in Asia, Africa and South America.