I visited Zurich Zoo on a brief visit to Europe last month. It was the second zoo visited, after Bern Zoo and before Alpin Zoo in Innsbruck. You can find brief introductory remarks about the trip in the Bern Zoo report. Zurich Zoo is the sort of zoo I no longer make a great effort to see, a major mixed collection based in a large city. Why? Because there is little useful I can learn that can be applied to Moonlit. After all, while a good budget for an enclosure at Moonlit might be $50,000, these zoos usually talk of budgets of $5,000,000 and more. However, that does not stop me visiting if passing and Zurich is conveniently located between Bern and Innsbruck. I also wanted to see the Masoala Rainforest Hall of which I had heard many good things. Lastly of course Zurich Zoo is the zoo with which Heini Hediger is most closely associated. Hediger is regarded as the father of zoo biology, and was the first to define the rolls of a zoo as recreation, conservation, education and science. I got to the zoo by tram, the number 6 tram terminates about 50 metres from the zoo entrance. If taking the tram from the central rail station, as I did, be aware the number 6 stops at the tram stop across the river from the front of the station, not any of the stops around the station. The first building encountered was, like Bern, a multi-species house containing small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. While it was much larger and contained many more species, I did not enjoy it as much as the vivarium at Bern. It had three levels, with the bottom basement obviously winter accommodation for some of the larger mammals. Heading up the hill was the South American area, with the excellent spectacled bear enclosure. This area is sometimes described as an “immersion” exhibit but not by my definition. By my account for an exhibit or more probably collection of exhibits to be regarded as immersion you have to be able to look in any direction and believe you could be in the animal’s habitat. Moving further on I came to the Australian area, a disappointment and what a disappointment! Not I hasten to add was I concerned about the husbandry, but rather the theming of the exhibit. Overall the impression I got was that the theme was arid red-sand country. This was a theming that went throughout the Australian section, inside and out. Things started well with a large enclosure with outside and inside sections for perentie, followed by an equally appropriate shingleback lizard. Going inside the red colouring dominated, making the interior quite dark. A line of white dots meander along the wall, reminiscent of Aboriginal dot painting. (By the way, Aboriginals take a dim view of whitefellas misappropriating their art). Again, this leads me to think of the arid interior, as that is where dot art comes from. Looking into the enclosure what is sitting on a perch in the middle of this desert scene? A koala. Going outside more koalas, redneck wallabies and emus. Again, the red-sand country theming is carried through. I read later in the guide book I purchased that the theme was meant to be “savanna woodland”. Whatever, this entire area is labeled “Canberra Forest Trail”. Somebody should tell Zurich Zoo Canberra is as green as Switzerland most of the time. My view is that any landscape theming of enclosures should reflect the habitat of the species being exhibited as much as possible. That way the zoo visitor at least can associate animals with their habitats, even if they never read a sign. Years ago, I visited Nagoya Zoo and, in their koala house, the koalas sat on perches surrounded by a field of potted orchids. Neither Nagoya Zoo’s or Zurich Zoo’s koala house tell me anything about the habitat of koalas, but at least no reasonable person is likely to be tricked into believing koalas live in fields of orchids. Coincidently, when Zurich Zoo received their six koalas from the Australian Reptile Park, they gave a $600,000 donation to “Aussie Ark”, the Reptile Park’s conservation facility. If Zurich Zoo themed their exhibit around Aussie Ark, they might have looked to housing animals associated with this project, such as devils, quolls, bettongs and potoroos. Moving out of this area and across the road is a walk-in aviary containing rainbow lorikeets (or a close relative). Once again, the arid red-sand theming. Really? Having seen this, I have to doubt all of Zurich Zoo’s theming. Next was the Great Ape House, and I am happy it is due for replacement. Walking into it I realized I recognized the enclosures from a photo in a book I have from my childhood, where the house was being lorded as the most modern in zoo design. I call this the “Hygienic” enclosure design period, cells that could be scrubbed spotless with no natural materials to hide unwanted bugs. At least they have some natural furnishings in the enclosures now, but the sooner it is replaced the better. Mind you, this house could easily be adapted to a range of smaller mammals as well as birds. Moving along the top of the zoo past some bird and the cat enclosures, all of ample size and well furnished, I turned a corner and dropped down a level. Just before the lion exhibit I came across my favorite exhibit of the original part of the zoo. It was a simple aviary occupied by Swinhoe's striped squirrels, Derbyan parrots and chukar partridges. Filled with activity and noise, it captivated all who bothered to stop for a look. I tell you, people spent longer at this exhibit than they did with the Asiatic lions next door. Continuing down I passed through an education area made up of yurts with appropriate exotic livestock penned nearby. A nice idea. I headed towards to bottom of the hill ignoring a substantial part of the zoo devoted to hoofstock. I found a delightful waterfowl enclosure to walk through and came out at the other end at the penguins next to where I started. I then had to backtrack a little to get to the new section of the zoo. Proceeding down the track under a road I pass the first exhibit, a fantastic large enclosure for a group of geladas. Further downhill was the “elephant park” which was just great. The indoor enclosure is more impressive in life than it is in photos. I thought the roof might dominate the animals, but it doesn’t. I must admit though I was drawn to the roof, as it was made up of laminated wood. It took me back to a previous stage of my life when I was involved with that type of product. Leaving the elephant house, having seen the mouse deer that I am sure most visitors miss, I proceeded back up the hill and on to the Masoala Rainforest Hall. To my right was the childrens zoo, which I thought looked a little scruffy and did not bother to visit. To the left was the vast Lewa Savanna project which was very much under construction. I read that when finished it would display giraffes, for the first time at Zurich Zoo in 60 years! Interesting that a major city zoo could go without such a popular ABC species for so long. I finally reached the Masoala Rainforest Hall. Now you must understand temperatures outside where high, the European heat wave was still intense, and I had been at the Zoo walking round without a break for over four hours. Then I enter the tropical heat and all I want is relief. I move down the hall a lot like an average visitor, glancing from side to side but noticing little. I did of course notice the Madagascan weavers, a species I had kept as a teenager. The males were in their brilliant red breeding plumage and were everywhere. Finally, I reached the sanctuary of the café at the opposite end of the building. I enjoyed what was my best meal in Switzerland looking out on a wetland scene with jacanas stalking past the window. After refreshing myself I visited the museum that contained displays on the history and lifestyle of Madagascar as well as some biological exhibits such as a model of the extinct elephant bird. There were also live exhibits for Madagascan boa and a reef aquarium displaying mostly Asian-Pacific fish. I then went back into the Rainforest Hall to enjoy the next hour searching out birds, encountering lizards, and finding the first mouse lemur I have ever seen. I climbed the treetop walk to come face to face with a vasa parrot, then suddenly back on the path a group of red-ruffed lemurs jumped across the path in front of me. A small boy nearby gasped in amazement. All without a single crashed aircraft or ruined temple, the few buildings within the hall were all very low key and appropriate. Overall the rainforest hall was a wonderful experience. After the Australian area I did check that the real Masoala was a rainforest and of course many of the trees and even some of the animals are not to be found in Madagascar. But there was nothing that grated with me the way the Australian exhibits did. I did have a couple of concerns, though. Firstly, I wonder how many members of the general public would take the time I did to discover all the hall has to offer. I also wondered how many of the small reptiles, and even small mammals such as the mouse lemurs, were stolen by visitors. After inspecting the gift shop and buying a half-price copy of the Zoofuhrer (in German, but an impressive publication) as well as the Masoala Nature Guide (in English) I took the tram back to the city. I collected my bag from the hotel then it was back onto the train towards Innsbruck.