the African savannah awaits visitors from Saturday

Giraffes, zebras and rhinos are waiting for visitors to the Zurich Zoo from Saturday in a vast savannah. Unique in Switzerland, this giant installation is flanked by a room for hyenas. Some attractions are still inaccessible due to coronavirus.

The “Lewa” savannah, inaugurated on the sly two months ago in full semi-confinement, covers 5.6 acres. It bears the name of a Kenyan nature reserve, a partner of the Zurich Zoo in a program to sustain endangered species in collaboration with local residents.

“World class”

At a cost of 56 million francs, this new part of the zoo was funded by private donations and foundations. The construction lasted more than two years. The total of one hundred companies. “It’s a world-class facility!”, Board chairman Martin Naville praised to the media gathered at the site on Wednesday.

Raising public awareness of the need to save an endangered animal world is the role of the zoo.

Alex Rubeldirector of Zurich Zoo

“Making the public aware of the need to save an endangered animal world is the role of the zoo,” adds director Alex Rübel, who is retiring at the end of the month. He thus justifies this attraction and the arrival in Zurich of new animals, sometimes by plane.

Stunning throats of realism

Ten species of mammals, three types of birds, and two species of reptiles coexist from near or far in an area that reaches nearly a quarter of the greatly expanded zoo. There are especially zebras, antelopes, ostriches, rhinos and, the highlight of the show, giraffes. The latter had not been part of the inhabitants of the Zurich Zoo since 1956.

To access the savannah, visitors first descend into artificial gorges of breathtaking realism, where they discover parrots with unlikely sounds. In the extension we reach the “house”, which net giraffes and white rhinos sometimes inhabit: a discreet installation of 2400m2 with a transparent ceiling, which blends into the landscape.

On the savannah of Zurich, animals mingle in realistic surroundings, surrounded by forest edges. (Zurich Zoo / Goran Basic)

The “house” is also home to naked mole rats, a blind and ultra-hierarchical species that live confined in a network of small galleries. It also allows you to arrange exclusive dinners with views of the animals on the savannah. On the lower floor is a teaching room about rhinos and a movie presentation room that is still inaccessible due to sanitary measures.

On the edge of the forest

The visit continues outside. We first stop among the meerkats before strolling through a reconstructed African village square. From there you can access the promenade, which overlooks the savannah, so you can stand face to face with the giraffes. The animals live there surrounded by a forest panorama, in the middle of a thousand plants and trees.

Four baobabs with a height of 19 meters dominate the space. These are, of course, forgeries. Constructed of metal and concrete, but remarkably constructed, they contain food accessible to animals through holes. These giants are “piloted” from a distance.

Hyenas stayed away

Further on, the path leads to a separate park with impressive cliffs. There are hyenas and hedgehogs.

Hyenas are kept away from other savannah animals. They have a separate park. (Keystone / Alexandra Wey)

On the other side of the ‘village’, a large field for African cattle completes the picture. At present, however, it is occupied by patio tables to allow visitors to dine while respecting the distances prescribed by the Federal Council.

Virus restrictions

In general, zoos have taken important coronavirus protection measures: one-way visits to large and closed to small indoor facilities, limiting the number of daily visitors to 5,800 people and 3,000 simultaneous visitors.

For the savannah, the reality of the virus precludes several planned offers at the moment. Among them, one day it will be possible to sleep in specially set up tents to spend the night there, while hearing the cries of the hyenas. Feeding the giraffes themselves and caring for an animal for half a day is also among the activities that are still impossible.

By Fabien Gysel, Keystone-ATS

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