I love the Zoo. Ever since David Attenborough’s dulcet tones ignited an interest in the natural world in a pre-school Mike I have held a fascination in the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit this earth. And a trip to the zoo still turns me into an excited infant even at the ripe old age of 27.
So, I could hardly contain my excitement when Zoe agreed on a trip to Zurich’s ‘Tiergarten’ (animal garden the literal English translation). And I could hardly disguise my disappointment when, on the day of our planned trip Zoe didn’t quite bound out of bed in the same way I did. With no thanks to a horrible migraine our trip was postponed.
However, dear readers, you will be pleased to hear that we did make it to the zoo a week later and it was very much worth the wait. Jumping on the number 4 tram we headed up the Zurich Berg atop which the animal park is nestled. Also residing there are the kings of the football jungle – the zoo is next door to the headquarters of FIFA. A visit to the zoo and the world cup in one day would probably have been too much for my excitable self so I vowed to return another day.
The concept of the zoo – to some merely caged animals paraded for entertainment – can be a little controversial and I must say, as someone cursed with a conscience, there is little more depressing than the sight of a miserable animal in captivity. I’m pleased to say that I have no such misery to report following a visit to Zurich zoo. It lived up to its billing as one of the best zoos in Europe with bright looking beasts, manicured enclosures and an extensive conservation programmes.
On arrival Zoe bravely put her newly learnt German into practice. Whilst the couple ahead of us valiantly requested their entrance tickets auf Deutsch they were clearly found out as British imposters when the lady asked if they wanted an visitors guide in English. Admitting defeat they humbly accepted. Undeterred, Zoe gave it a go in her best Deutsch and was not questioned. Looking at the guide as we got through the gate, however, she disappointedly said that she had been given an English guide without even being asked. A bit besmirched she handed the guide to me. On opening it up however, I realised that although the cover had been translated the contents were all in German. Zoe had successfully passed herself off as a genuine Swiss Miss. This was a seminal moment and we vowed to celebrate with a Bratwurst at the next possible opportunity. The celebrations were muted a little, however, when we realised I knew less animal names auf Deutsch than I thought so we had no idea which enclosures held which creatures! I guess it perhaps gave us a taste of what it must have been like to discover new animals for the very first time (or at least that’s what I told myself as we wandered past about 5 different breeds of Llama trying to find the lions).
Keen as mustard I raced to the first enclosure which the sign confidently told me (in English) housed a ‘Spectacled bear’. I was quickly brought down to earth when I couldn’t see anything. Perhaps he was hibernating. Or looking for his spectacles?
Thankfully the next paddocks contained plenty of life, from cute (if rather slimy looking) pygmy hippos, playful sea lions and wily otters.
It wasn’t just the animals at the Zoo that seemed content either, the staff too seemed courteous and in their natural habitat. The one exception was the guy tasked with feeding the camels. He didn’t seem too enamoured with his day job but I suppose getting repeatedly spat on by excited Bactrians is enough to give anybody the hump!
Possibly the highlight was the bull elephant Maxie. This, I assume, is short for ‘Maximus’. He is quite easily the biggest animal I have ever seen in the flesh. An absolute juggernaut of a creature. Born in Thailand he came to Zurich Zoo following a spell in a circus. He is kept away from his harem of females apart from at very defined times for the breeding programme as there is a risk he will injure them such is his size and boisterous nature. No one would dare call this fella Dumbo – he is clearly one creature not to be messed with. A huge new elephant enclosure is under construction at present, probably to make more room for Maxie, or perhaps because he requested it. I imagine if you weigh a good few tonnes you tend to get your own way.
Zoe was a particular fan of the orang utans. These extraordinarily human-like animals were full of energy and there were plenty of heart stopping moments as a very young member of the group tested out his capabilities swinging from rope to rope. The occasional slip whilst suspended 20 metres in the air brought gasps from the onlookers outside the enclosure but didn’t faze him at all.
The Masoala Rainforest was another great experience. Now in its tenth year, the huge greenhouse simulates rainforest conditions. It’s just had a new aerial walkway installed so, if you can hack the warmth and humidity, you can climb up and see the free flying birds and bats whizzing about among the tree tops. It’s pretty spectacular.
All in all it was a great day out and I’m pleased to say it completely met the expectations of my juvenile inner self. Enjoy the pics!
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.