Zoos split between presentation of exotic animals and animal welfare

Covid commits, families in search of exoticism set course for the great zoos. Within a few years, zoos were forced to invest massively to transform what was a menagerie into an ecological space.

The sun this July morning attracts the audience. Under Birsigviadukt the queue gets longer. Grandparents, grandchildren, families, strollers, tourists. Everyone is waiting to get into Zolli, the Basel Zoo. We come to see penguins, giraffes or great apes.

“We are on holiday. We are visiting Switzerland as we did not travel due to the pandemic. Basel Zoo is very famous”, launches a tourist from French-speaking Switzerland.

Like many others, she came to observe Heri, Maya, Rosy and Jack. The elephants. Their enclosure is emblematic of the place’s new philosophy. 5300 m2 landscape inspired by the savannah, with the tops of the buildings in Oberwilerstrasse in the background.

“In the wild, animals spend their time looking for water or food,” says Basel Zoo director Olivier Pagan. “So we create 120 caches for food. There are also hay bales at the end of an articulated arm. A computer determines when they are available. The system works day and night. The elephants are no longer bored.”

How are babies made?

Miss Kumbuk, the first Asian elephant shown in Basel, had a small enclosure built in 1891. [Keystone]How can you justify having elephants in the middle of the city of Basel? For pedagogical reasons. Because the goal is no longer to gather animals, but to present themes through pavilions. Specifically, kangaroos live in a room that houses animals that have developed a special reproductive strategy.

The small heads of marsupials sticking out of their pockets attract children. So they discover next to it brush strokes and its huge nest or the green python which holds its eggs in its rings.

“We do a ‘subcutaneous’ education,” explains Olivier Pagan. “Visitors should have fun coming to the zoo. Our job is to impart knowledge about the animals.”

>> Presentation of Basel Zoo’s elephant enclosure in local colors

The elephants in Basel Zoo have been given a new room [RTS]

The elephants in Basel Zoo have been given a new room / Local colors / 6 min. / March 15, 2017

Rafael Lambert, biologist and science popular in Bordeaux, believes in the pedagogical power of zoos. For example, he discovered the problem with palm oil during a visit. “I think the visitor comes more for the spectacle, to be surprised. The zoo is a mass spectacle. But it can create awareness and educate people who will not get up at dawn to go into the woods.”

Zoos are ambassadors for a world in danger, says Caspar Bijleveld, director of Papiliorama in Kerzers, member of the association ZooSuisse.

One of the activities offered to chimpanzees to occupy them [P.W.]One of the activities offered to chimpanzees to occupy them [P.W.]“Zoos are centers of knowledge. In the 21st century, we have entered a period of great extinction. Of the 33,000 species monitored by international union for the conservation of nature30% are on the verge of extinction “. More than $ 350 million used every year by zoos on nature conservation programs.

Prison for animals?

Among animal rights activists, the image of the zoo is conveyed as one animal prison. They lose their instincts and visitors would only see disturbed animals. Without seeing animal cruelty centers, the co-president of the Young Swiss Greens, Oleg Gafner, questions the idea of ​​the zoo.

“Children go to the zoo to see live stuffed animals. Of the 380 species in Zurich Zoo, 42 benefit from a specialized conservation program. Is it necessary to have the other 340 species?”.

In essence, the zoo makes money by exhibiting animals. So the preservation of nature as an alibi for entertainment? “With a large zoo, you make no money!”, Says Olivier Pagan.

Not a profitable business

“Basel Zoo relies on donations at a rate of 6 to 8 million a year. We must remain attractive in order to retain our publicity. But it is a matter of showing the reality of the animals.” Gone are the cheetahs walking around on a leash in a zoo or the shows with parrots cycling.

There are only 300 Somali wild donkeys left in the world, half of them in zoos.  Basel takes care of this species for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). [Keystone]There are only 300 Somali wild donkeys left in the world, half of them in zoos. Basel takes care of this species for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). [Keystone]In order to remain attractive and take better care of its residents, the zoo must have constant investing. “A zoo is never finished. It is constantly changing. Biological knowledge is evolving and allowing us to improve our enclosures.” Currently bird pavilion Basel is under construction. Expenses for the operation DKK 20 million

All these facilities are expensive. And since coronavirus has been there. Basel Zoo estimates its losses at 3.5 million in the 82 days following its closure. There was very little technical unemployment. Holders must take care of the animals at all times.

As a result, future investments may be delayed.

Pascal Wassmer

>> Which zoo tomorrow? Debate in the Forum program

The debate - Which zoo tomorrow? [RTS]

The debate – Which zoo tomorrow? / Forum / 17 min. / July 27, 2020

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