In the heart of Basel, Switzerland is a place of wonderful and odd creatures found few other wildlife parks around the world. Featuring more than 600 species, the Basel Zoo was established in 1874 and is the largest zoo in Switzerland. More than 1.7 million people visit this zoo, or the Zolli as locals refer to it, each year making it the most popular tourist attraction in the country. And with good reason, as the Basel Zoo has been ranked by Forbes as one of the 15 best zoos worldwide, and as the 7th best in all of Europe by the Zoological Society of London in 2009.
There are many exciting exhibits and animals to view at the zoo, but what makes those experiences even more thrilling is how incredibly successful the Basel Zoo has been in captive breeding of many of the critically endangered species you will see. This zoo has made huge contributions in preserving genetic diversity of many species, including snow leopards with 30 cubs born at the zoo, and cheetah, with 18 births. It was the first zoo to have successfully bred an Indian Rhino calf, and the second in the entire world to welcome a baby lowland gorilla in 1959. The first captive born greater flamingos were hatched onsite, and great success has also been repeated breeding pygmy hippopotamuses, and okapi, both endangered species. Further, every Somali Wild Ass in captivity is genetically related to those here because this is where the breeding program originated.
As an older facility, the Basel Zoo has needed to reinvent itself over the years to ensure the enclosures are state of the art, appropriate and enriching environments for its inhabitants while also engaging for the visitor. One of the exhibits that exemplify this end is the Etosha house, a modern viewing facility using green building approaches in an attempt to feature all of the natural elements in an ecosystem. From within the Etocha House, visitors look out onto the open enclosures of the cheetahs, lions, crocodiles, ring-tailed lemurs, and porcupines.
Next to the lemur exhibit, there is a large rock formation where one can witness the fuzzy-head crab-eating macaque. This monkey lives in large groups in the wild, and there are 60 in residence at the Basel Zoo. A distinct social hierarchy is essential to ensure there is enough crab (or other food such as frogs, leaves, fruit, or even bark) to go around and so to avoid fighting between the animals, their food is widely distributed over the rocks of the exhibit and it is essential no outside food finds its way in.
In the Antelope house, a guest will find the giraffes, the giraffes cousin, the quiet Okapi and the equally shy Lesser Kudu, an antelope from the thorn bush areas of the Eastern Savannah. The kudus have enormous ears, which serve them well in their natural habitat where is it necessary to hear a predator as it is often impossible to see them through the tangled vegetation. The kudu’s body is a tan color but it has several random vertical white stripes that help break up its shape in the shade of the low trees and bushes, making it harder for a predator to see. A more dramatic strips pattern that serves the same purpose can be seen on the hind quarters of the Okapi, a strange and beautiful forest creature related to the giraffe.
Other wonderful things to see at the Basel Zoo are the Australian species in “Land of Marsupials”, the Asian Elephants and the shared enclosure of Grant Zebras, hippos and ostriches. The Zolli also offers evening hours until midnight on certain days, so that would be an exciting opportunity to visit the zoo after dark.