What's new at Basel Zoo

After more than three years of construction, Basel Zoo is now opening the Tembea elephant enclosure to the public for the first time. The new, expanded outdoor areas and the new building will be home to elephants as well as African clawed frogs, brown rats and harvester ants. The public are invited to join the opening festivities on the weekend of 18 and 19 March.

The new Tembea elephant enclosure will open to the public for the first time on 16 March. Visitors can see the elephants in their large open enclosure and the three outdoor areas, which are designed to emulate a natural savannah landscape. ‘Our elephants are ambassadors for their relatives in the wild’, zoo director Olivier Pagan emphasised at the press event for the opening of the enclosure. ‘We want to show elephants to our visitors in order to promote conservation of these endangered creatures.’ To celebrate the opening of the Tembea enclosure, Basel Zoo will start an annual donation of CHF 50,000 to the Big Life Foundation’s Anti-Poaching conservation project in Kenya.

Elephants on the move

Female elephants Rosy (22), Maya (23), Heri (41) and Malayka (46) have already tried out their new home. ‘The new enclosure now offers the four elephants 121 feeding spots in a wide range of designs’, says project manager Heidi Rodel. ‘This means that we keep them constantly on the move, in keeping with the enclosure’s name, which means “movement”.’ The new enclosure can be divided into multiple compartments and the links between the enclosures can be altered, creating ‘walking routes’ that change every day. The outdoor enclosures are divided up by shady green islands, bollards and ropes, and the elephants can choose to come into contact with other elephants or to withdraw. Wallows, pools, showers and a wide range of enclosure structures and floor coverings ensure the elephants’ have varied daily lives. A male elephant will also be coming to Basel Zoo. His arrival date is still to be confirmed. 

Privacy for elephants

The new enclosure replaces the old elephant enclosure from the 1950s and is almost three times the size of its predecessor. With Tembea, the zoo’s approach to elephant keeping is switching to what is known as ‘protected contact’. This includes a daily training session, during which there is a constant barrier between humans and animals. This is in line with modern zoo keeping techniques, makes veterinary examinations easier and allows zookeepers to care for the animals’ feet, rinse their trunks and check their teeth. The animal keeping staff simulate these actions in daily training, enabling them to be completed in a relaxed atmosphere (for both animal and keeper) in the case of an emergency. Curator Adrian Baumeyer says: ‘We have completely changed our animal keeping approach over the past few months, and handling the elephants has already become noticeably easier and more relaxed. Training is also a welcome addition to everyday life at the zoo.’ Visitors can now watch training sessions in the elephant house.

New residents in the elephant enclosure

Everything in the new enclosure is based around the theme of ‘movement’. In addition to elephants, the enclosure is home to brown rats, harvester ants, African clawed frogs and various species of fish. The species were selected for their specific characteristics which match the enclosure’s overarching theme. Storks, which are frequent flyers, and other migratory birds, have not been left out. The observation platform in front of the elephant house offers spectacular views of the nesting sites that have been created in the outdoor enclosure. Other native animals have also been kept in mind: Summer and winter homes for bats have been created in and around the house, along with around 50 nesting facilities for native birds.

A project made possible by donations

The total cost of the project was CHF 27 million, which was funded solely by donations. Zoo visitors also contributed to the construction of the enclosure with ‘world record sponsorship’. At the end of December 2016, there were 23,460 sponsors of the Tembea elephant enclosure. The largest single donation was an anonymous gift of CHF 5,000,000. The many large and small donations were collected thanks in no small part to the patronage committee, under the leadership of François Labhardt, a member of the Board of Directors.

Opening celebrations

Inauguration festivities to celebrate the opening of the Tembea elephant enclosure will take place on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 March from 10 am to 5 pm. There will be a special programme in front of the restaurant. Visitors will learn how and why elephants train every day, and find out about the dangers faced by elephants and their conversation at ‘Tusks – White Gold’ information stands. Children can test their skills with a ‘trunk’ and try out a wheel of fortune with prizes.