A D L I S W I L W I L D N I S P A R K
Adliswil Wildnispark is a wildlife park in Zürich, Switzerland founded in 1869 by Carl Anton Ludwig von Orelli. The park is on Langenberg, roughly 4.6 square miles. It currently holds more than 20 species, the majority of which are local to Switzerland. The goal was to bring wild animals that were excessively hunted in Switzerland closer to the city, encouraging the public to connect more with nature.
While initially showing little regard for the animals, the park has grown into the closest example of an ethical zoo. All animals are given large, near-natural enclosures that suit their needs, their feeding encourages behaviors observed in the wild, and the park staff has as little contact with the animals as possible. All animals mate, rear young, and live as a pack or individual depending on the species. With the exception of two exhibits, the park is open 24/7, 365 days a year to encourage visitors to take their time and learn about the native animals.
I used to live in Zürich but never took advantage of the nearby Wildnispark. By going back to visit it, I realized that the story of this park was worth studying and sharing. It is well-known in Switzerland, but unheard of abroad. When people think of zoos their first thoughts usually aren’t the proper care for the animals, conservation programs, and whether they respect the way animals should live, despite being in captivity. While I believe that wild animals in captivity is fundamentally wrong, there are many ways that zoo animals’ lives can be improved if they are treated the way that they are at Adliswil Wildnispark.
Adliswil Wildnispark’s first major attraction was the Brown Bear in the early 1900’s. Because the bear was an unexpected gift to the park, it was chained to one spot while the pit was built. In this pit, the park showed how wild animals could be tamed by making the bears beg for carrots and even participate in shows, degrading their new pet. After the ‘Wild Animals in Captivity’ guide was released in 1942, the park created a more natural environment for the bears to live in. The forest on Langenberg provides them with authentic ground to roam, trees to climb, caves to rest. Currently, the Brown Bear’s forested enclosure is the highlight of the park. Interestingly, the original pit still stands at the entrance to the Wildnispark. I see it as a symbol of the mistreatment of animals, and an acknowledgement of what the park was once like, and what they must never do again.
The animals are getting much better care now than they did when the Wildnispark first opened. Habitats are made for the animals’ comfort, including a private part of the enclosure that cannot be seen or disturbed by visitors. The Edible Dormouse exhibit is especially unique. While their natural habitats include caves and trees, they are also commonly found in cupboards, attics, and sheds. They rarely expose themselves to the open to prevent being spotted by predators. By living in a crammed environment, they are able to climb and hide where comfortable. This set is not only enjoyable for visitors to look at, but gives the dormouse space to exhibit its natural behaviors.
All animals are born with instinctual behaviors that make them uniquely suited to their environment. However, it’s not always enough to have a structure there for the animals to apply a particular behavior. Enclosures and feeding methods are tailored to species for them to practice behaviors they use in the wild. Feeding is especially challenging when it comes to the predators in the park. European Wildcats enjoy climbing trees, and having a wide variety of trees in their enclosure enables them to do so. But this alone is not enough. They are also stealth hunters, lying and waiting patiently for their prey to enter their reach and pounce at just the right moment. To encourage this behavior, an automated crate will suspend food just out of reach, allowing the cats to notice its presence and practice stalking. It then enters the range of the wildcat, where it strikes. This holistic and nuanced approach to feeding gives the animals a higher quality of life than at the average zoo, where a bowl of meat may be put out for food instead.
Adliswil Wildnispark is incredible compared to all of the zoos that we have grown familiar with. They care for their animals and only hold species native to Switzerland or part of the European Endangered Species Programme. However, these animals in captivity are still being robbed of their freedom and everything that they would be able to do in the wild. No matter how big the park, it can’t be compared to the amount of land that a wild Eurasian Wolf would cover in one day. When considering other zoos, the park seems fantastic, but in isolation, it is unjustifiable. It was not created to benefit the animals. Adliswil Wildnispark is a great zoo, but at its core, nothing more than an elaborate show for the public.