Severin Dressen, the savannah at the city gates

The story has everything of a fairy tale, about a child who dreamed of becoming a zoo director and who in his almost thirties was chosen from 140 candidates for the management of one of the most prestigious zoos on the old continent. “When you grow up, you end up choosing a serious job, and you become a banker or a journalist. Me, I clung to my childhood dream ”, loose in an outburst of brilliant laughter Severin Dressen.

The dream almost turned into a nightmare. The young German arrives at the heights of the city in full confinement, in an institution free of visitors. In the southern part of the zoo, party goods and champagne are repackaged, the party does not take place. The inauguration of the 5.6-hectare Kenyan savannah, which culminated in the return of the giraffes to Zurich after a sixty-four-year absence, should have crowned the entire career of future ex-director Alex Rübel, a key figure who has reshaped the Zurich institution. through the last thirty years. However, it is in the shadow of the pandemic that he bows and the other begins his reign.

“Who knows animals protect them”

The adventure therefore begins with a loss of 1 million a week, or 12 million lost over the three-month closure. In addition to the health test, there is the human tragedy. Barely three days after taking over the management of the zoo, Severin Dressen is confronted with the tragic accident of one of his collaborators, mortally wounded by a tiger. Faced with the “worst-case scenario”, the director nevertheless shows an impressive serenity. “We hope to be able to learn from the investigation, which is still ongoing. Until then, we must look ahead, ”confides the doctor of zoology. It must be said that from the top of his 90 meters Severin Dressen has the advantage of a horizon that reaches far.

Driven by the quiet strength reserved for those who know they are in the right place, the young director exhibits a superb calm, no matter the questions, even the most critical. Zoological institutions, an outdated model? On the contrary, he claims: “In an ideal world, zoos would have no reason to exist. Unfortunately, we are far from living in this ideal world, and these institutions are more important than ever before, ”states the enthusiast. Man’s control over wildlife and its reproductive system, an aberration? For this father of two young children, zoos certainly remain a human creation that artificially reproduces wild nature. However, these parks pursue the same goals as most of the organizations that criticize them. According to WWF, zoological institutions are the organizations that invest the most funds in protecting the environment and protecting species. Some zoos even buy land abroad to prevent nature from disappearing, ”explains the new ambassador for the zoo in Zurich. Strengthening communication about research and conservation of species and their habitats carried out by the institution, which is involved in eight regions of the world, will be one of Severin Dressen’s priorities.

To win the hearts of the big ones

To stay, the German will have the special mission to concretize within fifteen to twenty years the last three flagship projects, which will complete the transformation of the face of the zoological institution: a giant aviary that dominates the swamps of the Pantanal, “the archipelagos of ‘Southeast Asia ‘to house the orangutans as well as the’ Congo space ‘, a Central African forest to house the gorillas, while the development of the 2050 strategic plan will outline the role of the zoo over the coming decades.

If the zoologist has also given up an academic career in order to invest himself in the field, it is precisely to defend the pedagogical nature of the zoological institutions for the whole of society. “Of course it is fantastic to attract children. But our task goes far beyond that. My role is to convince adults, to convince you of the importance of preserving the environment around us. Now is the time to act. The zoo must therefore not only serve as a place of relaxation, it must be a place of knowledge. ” For this, Severin Dressen can count on the commitment of 350 volunteers, who each year dedicate 35,000 hours to the institution in Zurich.

In line with its predecessor, the zoologist is committed to sustainability, both for the institution that reached carbon neutral several years ago and for the commitment of its life. “In forty years, I hope that we have helped to make zoos a little more redundant than today. Unfortunately, if we do not change our behavior, we can find ourselves here, and I will not only have to announce the extinction of scimitar-horned oryx [la survie de cette espèce repose désormais sur les populations captives]but also elephants, rhinos, orangutans and even gorillas. “Appointment is made.


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1988 Born in Cologne, Germany.

2010 Participate in a nature conservation program in El Palmar National Park, Argentina.

2016 Received his doctorate in zoology from the University of Oxford.

2017 Deputy Director of Wuppertal Zoo, Germany, where he has worked since 2015.

2020 Director of the Zurich Zoo and the birth of her second child.

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