New enclosure for the elephants of Basel Zoo

Construction work on the new elephant enclosure will begin in August. It will cover around 5000 square metres, making it more than double the size of its predecessor. The enclosure consists of various partial outdoor enclosures and a new elephant house. Wallowing, bathing, showering and activity opportunities will make the elephants’ daily lives truly exciting. Some of the funding for this 28-million-franc project is already in place, with the remaining ten million being sought through donations. The enclosure is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2016. As well as elephants, the zoo plans to house guinea fowl, white storks, harvester ants and Norway rats.

Construction work on Basel Zoo’s new elephant enclosure will begin in August. Female elephants Maya (18), Rosy (17), Heri (36) and Malayka (41), as well as bull Yoga (16), can look forward to an enclosure expanded from around 2000 to around 5000 square metres of additional living space, where they will be able to bathe and shower to their heart’s content. Dividable and subdividable enclosures, artificial rocks and green islands offer greater structure and also serve as excellent scratching and rubbing spots. The elephants will also be able to make use of the ditches separating them from the public. The aim is for the male and female elephants to be able to use the same enclosure from time to time. The entire enclosure – including areas not accessible to the elephants such as dividing ditches, borders and logistics areas – covers 10,000 square metres. The female elephants will remain in Basel Zoo while construction work is undertaken, and discussions are currently ongoing to find temporary accommodation in another zoo for bull Yoga. The new enclosure is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2016.

More freedom of choice for the elephants

The new enclosure will offer a number of additional benefits for visitors and elephants alike: the public will be able to watch the elephants training and wandering around their open area, as well as foraging, bathing and grooming in the naturally-designed savannah landscape of the outdoor enclosure. All areas of the enclosure will be accessible to the male and female elephants, offering much greater variety. For the elephants, this change of keeping strategy to what is known as ‘protected contact’ means that they are no longer subject to humans and have greater freedom to do (or not do) what they want. The animal keepers will have only limited contact with the animals. Planning these changes presented significant challenges. ‘Thanks to their intelligence, complex social structure, the “super tool” that is their trunk and quite simply their size, elephants present enormous challenges when it comes to constructing a successful enclosure’, according to curator Stefan Hoby. 

Donors sought

The zoo has already secured 18 million of the 26 million Swiss francs required for the project. Thus far, funding has primarily come from specific bequests and major donations. The majority of the remaining funds required will most likely come from patrons, as well as being generated through a fundraising campaign forming an additional stage to the project. The final stage will consist of public-oriented measures. ‘Elephants are hugely popular animals’, says zoo director Olivier Pagan. ‘We are confident that we will be able to raise the necessary funds’.
Cohabiting with storks and guinea fowl

The new enclosure will also be home to various other species, with guinea fowl and stocks sharing the outdoor areas. There are plans for the new elephant house to contain terrariums for Norway rats and harvester ants. There should also be nesting areas for native migratory birds such as swifts and house martins, as well as incubators for indigenous bats. The zoo’s ring-tailed lemurs and radiated tortoises will also gain a new home on the island in front of the restaurant, which is being expanded and provided with a stall.

Elephant entertainment

The current elephant enclosure was opened on 13th May 1953. In 1985 this was expanded with a stall for the bull elephants including a separate outdoor enclosure. The upcoming new construction is vital, and not just as the house is getting a little long in the tooth – the new, ‘freer’ method of keeping elephants with no direct human contact requires totally different infrastructure. The training requires plenty of space, and the new feeding and activity concepts for example need additional gates, enabling access paths to change every day. In terms of daily activities, feeding boxes and troughs are filled with different types of food at changing times of day, and the elephants will enjoy varied daily lives of bathing, showering and wallowing.