A few weeks ago I was flying to Bangkok, Thailand for a two-week vacation. I had a 5-hour layover in Zurich, Switzerland and I immediately thought about bird watching at the zoo. With a quick 16-minute train ride to Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s main downtown street, I took the No. 6 tram straight to the zoo. It was midweek and yet the tram was filled with young children in strollers and their families. The zoo is a popular place. The weather was warm, but refreshingly non-humid compared to my Florida home and my Thai destination.
After getting through admission I aimlessly walked through much of the hilly zoo seeing early century cage-like enclosures for medium- to large-sized mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Knowing I was short on time I asked one of the many docents, who were manning the biofact tables throughout the zoo, where the Masoala Rainforest exhibit was located. On the way down the sharp 10-minute walk to the rainforest I spotted White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) flying over head and land in various nests.
Storks are not native to the major forested areas of Europe. They were from the plains of Africa and Asia, and traveled to Europe when open areas appeared do to the deforestation that happened during the Roman period and the Middle Ages.
Storks have lived at Zurich Zoo since the late 1950s. Until the 1980s, the birds were kept in the enclosures for water birds and were not able to fly. Today the storks choose to live at the zoo and can freely come and go. At least 260 new storks have hatched at the zoo in the last decade, and 150 of these have migrated south. Some return when they sexually mature, possibly breeding in the surrounding neighborhood.
According to the zoo’s website the Masoala Rainforest is the centerpiece of the zoo’s nature conservation strategy and I wanted to spend most of my layover there. As I entered the double set of glass doors, a wall of hot and humid air hit me.
In the Masoala Rainforest, there were brochures and signs explaining why the forests are disappearing, as well as how to become involved with projects that aim to conserve the forests. The Masoala Rainforest at the Zurich zoo attracts donations which provide one third of long-term funding to conserve the Masoala National Park in northeast Madagascar.
The zoo’s rainforest, which looks like a giant green house from the outside, covers almost three acres. The architecture and layout is modern, rivaling any zoo with its state of the art technical and electrical systems. It has approximately 17,000 plants and trees (covering hundreds of species) and more than 400 individual animals spanning about 60 species. When walking on the curving pathway I was surprised by how quiet and relaxing the humid rainforest first appeared. Prior to walking up the metal staircase to get a canopy view ,a sign warned me of the temperature change. On the bottom on the rainforest was a cool 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and on the top of the Observation Tower the temperature would jump to 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The view from the tower was dramatic. The rainforest came to life as the birds fed at feeding stations hung from the ceiling and lemurs howled to one another. The height of the rainforest is 30 meters (approximately 100 feet).
One of the many birds found at the Zurich Zoo’sMasoala Rainforest Exhibit.
I pushed my layover limit by staying at the zoo for two and a half hours, staying in the rainforest for an hour. I was able to see the majority of the zoo, but could have spent much longer if time allowed. Their public transportation runs as steady as their Swiss watches so I felt comfortable leaving the airport for a few hours to explore downtown and the zoo. What bird-related activities can you do on your next layover?
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