Zürich Zoo: Transition to Nature Conservation Center

March 23, 2017 — No comments

Newborn elephant baby at Zürich Zoo

Asian elephant baby Ruwani, born on February 25, 2017 at 120 kilograms of weight, is one of the star attractions at Zürich Zoo at this time. “A very lively young lady, she’s already skillfully using her trunk for a variety of tasks which is exceptional at her age,” explains Dr. Robert Zingg, Senior Curator at Zürich Zoo. (Watch the short video clip in the sidebar). “Normally, young elephants trip over their own trunks.”  Ruwani had expert teachers: her mother Farha, who was also born at the zoo, and grandmother Ceyla-Himali. Elephant babies are continually nudged to their feet during the first two days in order to stay with the herd in the wild, and poor Ruwani had mother and grandmother making sure she wasn’t laying down. She was dead tired by the end of the second day says Dr. Zingg, but is caught up on sleep by now.

Zoo Zürich

It is estimated that in the wild, there are 30, – 50,000 wild Asian elephants remaining, living in small groups across thirteen Asian countries. The animals are endangered by continued loss and destruction of natural habitat due to agricultural expansion, wood harvesting, and poaching. Zürich Zoo’s elephant park is named after Thai national park Kaeng Krachan, where the zoo is supporting an ecological program to save the remaining two hundred animals in the park.

Many more exciting on-site animal and nature exhibits await young and old alike and “to see the personal attachment of a young visitor to a particular animal is always heartening,” say Dr. Zingg.  The curator continues: “while the traditional way is to visit the zoo with parents and/or grandparents as a child – then with your class during the school years – to have privacy with your girlfriend as a young person – and finally as a parent and grandparent with your own child – one should visit the zoo even as an adult by oneself. There are many interesting and beautiful experiences to behold, many of which are of meditative quality. Or can have a fun note, like the ladies group that took to an Orang Utan, visiting her regularly, conversing with her and dedicating a poem on her birthday”.

Interesting tidbits of history at Zürich Zoo

Pre-history started in 1902, when the former foreign minister to Abessinia, Swiss born Alfred Ilg, donated two lions (the emblem of the city) to the city of Zürich in gratitude for having been able to study at ETH university. No suitable place to house the lions was available and the animals moved in with Zoo Basel. It did start the discussion in Zürich, however, and in 1925, a group of animal lovers formed into a society with 3,000 members who purchased the beautiful property and current zoo site. Zürich Zoo opened in 1929 with many donated animals among which two Asian elephants from group of Swiss Abroad who were adamant that the zoo should not open without “one of its best attractions”!

During Second World War, the zoo rented land to grow its own grain, potatoes and corn to feed the animals.

In 1954, a zoo keeper visits sick children at the hospital with a llama.

In 1968, the King of Bhutan presents Zürich Zoo with two elephants.

In 1982, Jane Goodall honored Zürich Zoo with a visit and observes the zoo’s chimpanzees.

To the Confederation’s 700 year birthday in 1991, India presents the zoo with two Indian lions.

Zürich Zoo camels at the city of Zürich’s most important ceremony

Zürich Zoo regularly lends two or three camels to the “Kämbel Zunft” (guild) for participation at the annual spring Sechseläuten festival in Zürich, which entails the yearly burning of the Böög (a large carton snowman) as a symbol of ousting winter. The city’s guilds form a procession, many in traditional dress going back to the 13th century. The Kämbel guild entailed the tradespeople during the middle ages: vegetable, fruit, salt and wine. How come a camel ended up being their heraldic animal? It’s an interesting story, partly based on the fact that in the late middle ages, angora-goats were called “Kämeltier” which resulted in a later vernacular mis-translation, but by then, the camel was already enshrined in the coat of arms. And based on all the misunderstanding you have it today that camels from Zürich Zoo are trained well in advance of the event, going on private little walks in the woods behind the zoo with their keepers and then also throughout the city!

Social and Ecological Engagement

Zürich Zoo reliably ranks within the top three out of 113 European zoos in the bi-annual U.K. Sheridan rating. It is well-known for its diversity of animals in spectacular settings, closely reproducing natural habitat. It also wins further acclaim in the category “Education, Nature- und Species Protection.”

Since 1991, Dr. Alex Rübel is director of the zoo and a new master plan with goals until the year 2030 was developed. While the Zoo area doubles to 78 acres, the number of species decreases to allow for larger enclosures. Rather than showing more species, the ecosystem became the focus and also included the animals’ opportunity to withdraw into private areas. The zoo was divided into several geographical zones – Eurasia, South America, Africa and the Masoala Rain Forest, named after the national park in northeastern Madagascar, which has become the zoo’s largest of its global six ecological project.

Working together with World Conservation Society on site in Madagascar, Zürich Zoo plants yearly 60,000 trees in the Masoala region, supports the lives of 35,000 people in nearby communities, implements sustainable methods of rice planting, develops infrastructure and trade for crafts, facilitates children’s education, the infrastructure for fresh water supply and pays the salary of three rangers. These compound activities help to maintain the Masoala region which is one of three globally most diversified living species biotopes and part of UNESCO world nature heritage. Many plant and animal species are exclusive to this region. Approximately 90% of Madagascar’s rain forest are already lost. Rainforest burnings to create short-term growing areas (unsustainable due to the immediate erosion), illegal wood cutting and animal killings are the greatest problems.

Masoala Biotop at Zürich Zoo and Masoala National Park in Madagascar, supported by Zürich Zoo

The football-field size re-created biotop walk-through Masala Rain Forest at Zürich Zoo is a unique project in Europe if not globally, and the visitor truly get a sense and feel of what the diversity of a rainforest really is, in plants and animals. The visitor can’t help have a much greater visceral understanding of what the destruction of rainforest really means.

Zürich Zoo Vision

“We are moving progressively toward becoming a nature conservation centre,” says Curator Dr. Zingg. “All animals at the zoo today are ambassadors for their species. Our aim is to foster a connection for city folks who are becoming increasingly more remote from nature. We want to facilitate an emotional connection between our visitors and the animals they meet here in the best possible way, in the hope that it has a positive effect on the visitor’s understanding regarding the importance of our world’s biodiversity. At Zürich Zoo, we try to be the best catalyst we can be to contribute toward this important objective, however, the task is up to all of us and society as a whole to maintain the biodiversity of our world.”

Share your experience – childhood or recent – if you’ve visited Zürich Zoo. You can leave a comment below.

About Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust


Switzerland travel enthusiast. Cat lover, bicyclist and classical music fan. I prefer walking over running and enjoy a good Swiss card game of Jass with friends.  More about Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust »

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Additional Information

For additional information, events, blogs, media reports and wonderful photographs go to Zürich Zoo’s excellent website: http://www.zoo.ch/de

All photos gratefully acknowledged to Zürich Zoo

Above: Ruwani, the elephant baby girl, learning how to use her trunk.

Zürich Zoo
Zürich Zoo


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