Travelling back in time: Masoala

It is easy to forget how lucky one can be to live under the tropics and to notice less how rich tropical wildlife is. Europe enjoys temperate climate except for its southern regions dominated by subtropical climate. There is however a very special place in Europe where tropical climate can be experienced the year around: the Masoala greenhouse of the Zurich Zoo… Continuing from a previous time travel post here are some images created in the first year of the Masoala greenhouse.

The Masola greenhouse, unique in the world, with a surface of 11’000 square meters (120’000 square feet) replicates a patch of the Masoala forrest of Madagascar and host many animal species: avians, reptiles, mammals and insects. The zooh! has very actively participated in conservation programs in the Masoala region, contributing to reduce yearly deforestation from 3% to 1% p.a. and providing very concrete help to the families living in Masoala. Opened 10 years ago, on June 29, 2003, I remember what was at the time a fragile ecosystem, not yet fully stable, as bit like the early days of an aquarium before chemical components find their stable mix and comfortably host living creature. Since then life is striving at the Masoala greenhouse which has welcomed 10 millions visitors since its opening and which has recently added a treetop walk in the greenhouse.

Masoala greenhouse, shot from the Uetliberg in October 2003 with Canon EOS 300D and Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX HSM at 500mm.

Masoala greenhouse, shot from the Uetliberg mountain in October 2003 with Canon EOS 300D and Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX HSM at 500mm. The bit of snow that can be seen on some roofs and trees was unusually early for Zurich that year.

This is quite a feat to maintain and grow a tropical ecosystem in Zurich: it snows every winter and experiences often freezing temperatures, spring and autumn seasons are not better with day temperature rarely reaching night tropical temperature… Only in summer, a few days and nights does the climate approach the tropical description. Still, using reusable energy and techniques to save water (it artificially rains 6mm/day in the greenhouse) this is a vibrant success for more than 10 years now.

Stream inside the Masoala greenhouse

Stream inside the Masoala greenhouse

Beyond admiring the animals and hearing them, it is a wonderful place to escape for a moment the cold and dreaming of spending holidays in a distant tropical paradise away from the busy city. Though during weekend alleys in Masoala can be crowded too.

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On the main alley in the middle of Masoala greenhouse it is easy to forget the city close by, its evergreen trees and, at times, its snow.

At the entrance of the greenhouse is a long corridor which helps visitors acclimating to the hot and humid climate of the greenhouse, this is much worth it as in summer the greenhouse tends to be quite more humid than the outside and of course during all other seasons the temperature inside the greenhouse is very significantly higher than outside. Visitors will see inside the corridor, as well as within the greenhouse, panels with sketches of the animals and their names in Latin, German, Italian, French and English. At the time, there were 5 species of mammals (4 lemurs and 1 bat), 19 birds, 5 species of reptiles (3 tortoises and 2 lizards) and 3 kinds of insects (including Madagascar Hissing Cockroach). One thing that occasional visitors will notice is that not all animals are visible at all time and it does take a while to see them all, going frequently over the span of about 2 years I did not manage to see them all… It regularly happens in many zoos, there are often some animals not visible in their enclosures at the time of the visit and successive visits are often constant re-discovery. This is even more true for Masoala, each visit becomes a search for new animals and new circumstances. I particularly remember that each of the lemur groups where occupying a corner of the greenhouse and often we could hear them screaming when an individual of the other group was getting closer to their territory.

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Red Ruffed Lemur eating fruit, image created on March 13, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 400, f/4, 1/160s, Evaluative metering.

Red Ruffed Lemur licking flower nectar, image created on May 20, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS with Kenko Pro TC 1.4x. ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/60s, Evaluative metering.

Red Ruffed Lemur licking flower nectar, image created on May 20, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS with Kenko Pro TC 1.4x. ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/60s, Evaluative metering.

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White-fronted Brown-lemur, image created on July 10, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 100, f/4, 1/160s, Evaluative metering.

 

Birds and Rodrigues Fruit Bats are on the other hand omnipresent throughout the greenhouse and it is not unlikely to be surprised by a bird flying very close of landing just behind you. Still some species are less tamed and much more difficult to spot or even to photograph. Some are funny looking like the Hamerkop, which surprisingly belongs to the same order as the Pelicans, are pretty active together with many beautiful Cattle Egret.

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Hamerkop preparing to takeoff under the greenhouse roof, image created on March 13, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/500s, Evaluative metering.

Hamerkop looking for food in the pond, image created on July 4, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/200s, Evaluative metering.

Hamerkop looking for food in the pond, image created on July 4, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/200s, Evaluative metering.

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Cattle Egret with blue flowers, image created March 13, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 400, f/4.5, 1/320s, Evaluative metering.

The greenhouse houses 6 species of ducks and already a year after its official opening we could see ducklings, showing how comfortable they were already in there little piece of paradise.

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Bernier’s Teal family, image created on July 4, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 100, f/4, 1/200s, Evaluative metering.

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Madagascar Red Fody, image created on July 4, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 100, f/4, 1/500s, Evaluative metering.

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Rodrigues Fruit Bat, image created on July 4, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 100, f/4, 1/250s, Evaluative metering.

 

Giant tortoises occupy one of the pond, sharing the area with the group of White-fronted Brown-lemurs, magnificent animals lazily bathing in their ponds.

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Aldabra Giant Tortoises in the pond, image created on July 10, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 200, f/5, 1/160s, Evaluative metering.

A couple of species of geckos are also visible, unfortunately I was only able to spot the Madagascar Day Gecko.

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Magadascar Day Gecko, image created on July 4, 2004 with Canon EOS 300D and Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS. ISO 100, f/4, 1/250s, Evaluative metering.

Singapore animal parks are very high in my heart and I’m lucky to live a few bus stops away from it, but the Swiss zoos shouldn’t be discarded as they have much to offer too and, for many, are much closer than Singapore is…

 

Travelling back in time: MasoalaChristian C. Berclaz
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3 comments on "Travelling back in time: Masoala"

  1. Anita Westerouen Van Meeteren-van Dijk

    Very interesting. I visited your website, how great of you to share this! Thank you 🙂

  2. Pingback: Traveling forward in time: the zooh! in 2013

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