Behind the Scenes at Basel Zoo The past, present and future of Basel Zoo

Nestling in the heart of Basel is one of Switzerland's most visited attractions. Opened in 1874 Basel Zoo, known as Zolli, attracts over 1.7 million visitors a year.

With over 600 species to care for there is plenty of work that goes on behind the scenes to keep Basel zoo operational.

Basel Zoo is run on a non-profit-basis and relies on contributions and donations. Additional support comes from The Association of Friends of Basel Zoological Garden, which was created in 1919. For a set fee each year, members of the Association receive special benefits such as regular publications and guided tours. They can also be more actively involved by serving as volunteer staff on special occasions.

Children's zoo

A popular feature is the children's zoo, which was opened in 1977. This is a place where children can come into direct contact with variety of animals and learn more about them. The animals are carefully chosen to have the right temperament so that they will not become stressed by the enthusiasm of the children!

For children looking for something more, if they are aged 8 years and above they can ask for opportunities to work in the zoo by helping in the stable and outdoor enclosures. Since the beginning of Spring there have been a number of new arrivals at the zoo, who have proven to be very popular with young visitors.

Basel Zoo has frequently been cited as one of the top zoos in Europe based on criteria such as the range of animals, the quality of their enclosures, the number of visitors, value for money and the zoo's investment in the facilities. However, it has not all been plain sailing for Basel Zoo as media attention has not always been favourable...

The tale of Basel's homeless hippo

In 2009 unusual stories began to emerge in the international press about one of Basel Zoo's star attractions – a young hippo called Farasi (which means horse in Swahili). According to news reports, including an in depth article in the Wall Street Journal, the zoo was running out of space for Farasi and was considering drastic options such as euthanasia.

These rumours shocked Switzerland, particularly since Farasi had been voted "Swiss of the Year" in 2008 (much to the disappointment of rivals such as Roger Federer). One story suggested that Farasi would be fed to the tigers, but as there were no tigers at Basel Zoo this detail was simply replaced by "lions" in others news coverage. Nevertheless, there was an outcry in response to these reports, which led to one Zurich receptionist launching a campaign to save the hippo.

Officially, Basel Zoo said it was looking to have Farasi adopted but places in European zoos for hippos can be few and far between. For example, it was reported that Heidi, Farasi' bigger sister, only found a place in Dublin Zoo when a previous hippo inhabitant unfortunately choked on a tennis ball thrown into the enclosure by an idiotic visitor.

The Swiss national circus was then rumoured to have offered to take Farasi but this was rejected as an unsuitable environment for the young hippo and the zoo authorities began to extend their contacts further afield.

Just as hope was running out, and the campaign to save him becoming more frenetic, Farasi was offered a home at the Tshukudu Game Lodge in Limpopo Province, South Africa. According to the latest reports from Tshukudu Game Lodge, Farasi's transfer was a success and he is now very much considered part of the local resident hippo family. 

The future

This underwater world aims to create additional advantages for Basel. As well as attracting visitors, it will generate jobs as restaurants and a conference centre are being considered alongside. Aquariums based on similar models have been highly popular and profitable elsewhere in the world and Basel zoo believes that it can recreate this success in Switzerland.


Visit Zoo Basel's website to find out about opening times, what's on and more!


© Zoo Basel

Author: Faiz Kermani

Originally from the UK, I live in Alsace but work in Basel in the pharmaceutical sector. I'm also on the Basel committee of the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce. Outside the day job I have many interests. I'm part of the PR team for Centrepoint ( and am President of the Global Health Education Foundation (, a US-based not-for-profit healthcare charity which aims to improve healthcare in developing countries. For fun I also write children's books and have won a few awards (

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