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Zoo Zurich

Masoala Rainforest

Monika Fiby (author)
Andreas Hohl, Marcel Fierz (editors, both Zoo Zürich)
Published 2005-5-23



Zürichbergstr. 221 , CH-8044 Zurich , Switzerland
Phone: ++41-44-254 25 00
Fax: 254 25 10
URL: http://www.zoo.ch


greenhouse, in-situ


Family:Species:Common Name:Capacity:
AnatidaeAnas bernieriBernier's Teal
AnatidaeAnas erythrorhynchaRed-billed Teal
AnatidaeAnas melleriMeller's Duck
AnatidaeAnas punctataHottentot Teal
AnatidaeDendrocygna viduataWhite-faced Whistling Duck
AnatidaeNettapus auritusAfrican Pigmy Goose
AtopogestidaeRhapidostreptus virgatorMillepede
BlaberidaeGromphadorhina portentosaMadagascar Hissing Cockroach
BoidaeSanzinia madagascariensisMadagascar Tree Boa
ChamaeleonidaeFurcifer lateralisCarpet Cameleon
ChamaeleonidaeFurcifer pardalisCamaleonte pardalis
CheirogaleidaeMicrocebus murinus
CordylidaeZonosaurus madagascariensis
CuculidaeCoua cristataCrested Coua
CuculidaeCoua reynaudiiRed-fronted Coua
DicruridaeDicrurus forficatusCrested Drongo
GekkonidaePhelsuma madagascariensisMadagascar day Gecko
GekkonidaeUroplatus fimbriatus
GekkonidaeUroplatus lineatus
LemuridaeEulemur fulvus albifronsWhite-fronted Brown Lemur
LemuridaeHapalemur griseus alaotrensisAlaotra Gentle Lemur
LemuridaeVarecia variegata rubraRed Ruffed Lemur
MeropidaeMerops superciliosusMadagascar Bee-eater
MicrohylidaeDyscophus antongiliiTomato Frog
MicrohylidaeScaphiophryne marmorataGreen Burrowing Frog
MuscicapidaeCopsychus albospecularisMadagascar Magpie-Robin
PasseridaeFoudia madagascariensisMadagascar Red Fody
PelomedusidaePelusios subnigerEast African Sidenecked Turtle
PhasianidaeMargaroperdix madagarensisMadagascar Partridge
PsittacidaeAgapornis canaGrey-headed Lovebird
PteropodidaePteropus rodricensisRodrigues Fruit Bat
ScopidaeScopus umbrettaHamerkop
TestudinidaeGeochelone giganteaAldabra Giant Tortoise
TestudinidaeKinixys bellianaBell's Eastern Hinged Tortoise
ThreskiornithidaeArdeola ibisCattle Egret
ThreskiornithidaeLophotibis cristataMadagascar Crested Ibis
ZosteropidaeZosterops maderaspatanaMadagascar White-eye


The Masoala Rainforest Hall represents a direct link between Zoo Zürich and its nature conservation project on the island of Madagascar. Masoala, the still mainly wooded peninsula in the north-east of Madagascar, is the habitat of innumerable rare plants and animals. According to studies by the nature conservation organisation Conservation International, Madagascar is one of richest spots on earth for species, a so-called hotspot. Almost 80% of the Madagascan animal and plant species exist only on this island lying off the east coast of Africa. In 1997 the largest park on Madagascar with an area of 2400 km2, which also encompasses three sea reservations, was founded. Since 2000 the National Park is run jointly by the Madagascan nature conservation authority ANGAP (Association National de la Gestion des Aires Protégées) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). By means of various development projects and a tree nursery at the Masoala National Park, Zurich Zoo wishes to show the local population an environmentally-friendly use of its living space.

The objective of the Masoala Rainforest Hall at Zoo Zürich is to enable visitors to experience the relationship between plants and animals and the natural living environment of a diverse range of unusual species. The Masoala Rainforest exhibit is unique in the world in terms of the authenticity of the habitat it depicts.

The roof is roughly 14,000 m2, made from highly translucent foil. Three layers of foil provide optimum insulation. The top layer prevents the roof from damage, for example from hail. In order to ensure that the plants thrive, the hall replicates the climate conditions that prevail on the Masoala Peninsula of Madagascar. Air temperature ranges between 20° and 30°C, with a relative humidity of 80% and above and up to 6 mm of tropical rainfall per day. A highly sophisticated heating and cooling system in the Masoala Rain Forest ensures low energy consumption.

Visitors enter a tunnel which is the link between the outside world and the rainforest hall. A winding main path leads to the various areas of the hall. At the end of the main path, visitors arrive at the Information Centre, where aquariums, terrariums and an exhibition provide background information on the Masoala Rainforest and its inhabitants. Visitors can dine at the Masoala Restaurant.

Visitors experience flora and fauna close-up, without barriers, as they walk along paths of various sizes through the different habitat areas. Visitors to the Masoala Rainforest and the Information Centre can hope to spot 48 species of vertebrates (more than 300 individuals) – including lemurs, flying fox bats, birds, giant tortoises, tomato frogs and coral fish. The basic principle of the jungle as a multi-level complex of lush, dense vegetation is emphasized by the topography, waterways and paths.


Width: 90 m, length: 120 m, height: 30 m, volume: 200,000 m3, substrate: 5000 m3

Space allocation in square meters:

useindoorsoutdoors     total exhibit    
accessible     total     accessible     total    



CHF 52,000,000 including 11 % for design.

320,000 CHF of total cost were spent on interpretation.


June 2003


Beginning: 1993

  • General Planning and Construction Contractor: bosshard + partner AG, Zurich
  • architects: Gautschi Storrer Architekten AG, Zurich
  • landscape architects: Vogt Landschaftsarchitekten AG, Zurich
  • plant management consultant: KiPlant International, Aalsmeer (NL)


Beginning: March 2001

  • civil engineer: Minikus Witta Voss, Zurich
  • buidling engineering/electrical systems: Getec AG, MSR, Zurich


walter.gif This is a climatic diagram for the closest weather station.



The Rain Forest is a three-tiered structure. The uppermost tree layer will eventually range in height from 7 to 30 m, the middle level from 2 to 6 m. The ground level is planted and seeded. The top soil is a mix of lava, pumice, extruded clay and ceolit (water absorbent porous vulcanic mineral) on a drainage layer of lava with drainage pipes. This artificial rainforest soil was built right on the natural clay base of the underground.

A total of over 20,000 individual plants and trees (approx. 400 plant species from 92 plant families) was introduced. They include 100 dominant tall trees, 1600 smaller trees and palms, 1000 vine plants, 400 bamboo plants, 4700 trees from the Zoo’s nursery in Madagascar, 4200 orchids and other epiphytes and 13 kg seeds from 98 plant species from Madagascar. Primary vegetation was started with plants from tree nurseries in Florida, Thailand and Malaysia and 4,700 trees from a nursery on the Masoala peninsula. They went by ship container into nurseries in Holland and Belgium. After an acclimatisation period of six to twelve months and regular checks by plant specialists on their growth and pests the plants were delivered to Zurich, where they were finally planted. Plants which were not grown in Madagascar will be gradually removed to give space to plants from the Masoala tree nursery. All plants are registered in a data base which includes data on each individual plant, images and information on its taxon.

In the rain forest the nutrients and minerals are not stored in the soil but in the living plants and animals. If a living creature dies the organic material is quickly broken down by fungi in the soil and conveyed to the roots of living plants. Therefore the only two to five centimetres thick layer of humus in tropical rain forests is extremely poor in nutrients despite their luxuriant vegetation. The plants of the Masoala Rain Forest in Zurich are embedded in a total of 5,000 m3 of mineral substrate. It has been put together purely for this purpose on the basis of investigations of the soil in Madagascar. Fertilizing is done on basis of regular monitoring, but mostly by compost that builds up from rotten plant parts. More than 65 animal species were introduced for pest control, mostly of them nematodes.

Only a few representatives of the Masoala Rainforest hall are listed in the Plant list.

The plant list specifies the Latin names of the plants used for this exhibit.


After roughly a year of existence, the ecosystem has been regulating itself. Numerous insects provide food for geckos and chameleons, while flying fox bats and lemurs consume leaves and fruits without inflicting much damage.


Keepers can move each of seven individual parts of a bridge across the rainforest hall right underneath the ceiling in order to work in the third dimension by using a rope hanging from the bridge.

Monitoring of the animals is done by attracting them to feeding stations where they can be observed and eventually caught.


On a footway which is easily accessible for children and wheelchairs, or along little paths, visitors can roam through the buildings. The footway leads past a six metre waterfall, streams, little lakes and rocks. Walking and climbing paths lead the visitor into the depths of the forest and invite to explore individual living spaces more closely.

The Information Centre, which is connected directly to the building, shows the importance of the rain forest for us human beings - both in Switzerland and in Masoala - but also the threat which this unique animal and plant world faces.


In the Masoala Rainforest at Zoo Zurich visitors can discover the special features of this habitat. The adjoining information centre is intended to motivate the public to act for the maintenance of forests and to contribute directly to the long-term upkeep of Masaola National Park through donations. The Information Centre at the hall features exhibits that emphasize both the importance of this unique world of flora and fauna and the danger to which it exposed. Visitors also learn about opportunities to contribute to nature conservation and species preservation.

Boards with the names of plants will be sought in vain in the Masoala Rain Forest. The experience of a rainforest comes first. The names of animal and plant species encountered in the rainforest hall can be found at the information centre. Moreover, the importance of many rainforest plants is explained.

60% of the vanilla on the world market, cloves and many Ylang-Ylang trees, which supply the fragrance for perfumes, grow in the Masoala region. The Information Center provides interpretation on commercially useful and medicinal plants which are one of the most important sources of income and a vitally important source of employment for the local population.


The spacious hall is heated by an air circulation system. Additional heating can be provided as needed by a central wood-chip furnace that does not emit CO2. A heat recovery system was installed in order to minimize wood consumption for heating purposes. On sunny days, hall temperature increases rapidly. When air temperature exceeds a specified limit, warm air beneath the dome of the hall is drawn off through a 25-metre-tall chimney. The air is cooled in the central air-conditioning unit and pumped back into the hall through 52 ventilation nozzles in the side walls. Excess heat is stored in a 250 cubic metre water tank. In the evening, when the air in the hall cools down, heat is drawn from the storage tank to warm the circulating air to the desired temperature. This system supplies 20 – 30% of the heating energy required even during the winter months. During the summer, the energy system is supplied solely with surplus heat from the hall.

An important element in the hall climate system is the rainfall system. Enormous quantities of decalcified water are required. In order to avoid drawing this water from the public water system, rainwater is collected in a cistern, which consists of two tanks with a capacity of 500 cubic metres each. The water is conditioned as needed, stored temporarily in several intermediate storage tanks and heated to 20° C. The rainfall and water-conditioning system is capable of supplying up to 80,000 litres of water per day for the rainfall system.

Seven employees are responsible for hall maintenance and care of all plants and animals. Three of these employees are permanent staff members.


Plants are monitored by an outside specialist twice a year for eventual pests or other damages.


The contribution of Zurich Zoo to nature conservation in Masoala is part of a contract with the Madagascan authorities. For planting the 11,000 m2 rainforest hall at Zurich, the Zoo needed 4700 seedlings from plant nurseries in Madagascar. Nurseries were established specifically for this purpose. Madagascan authorities agreed with export of native rainforest plants. In return, Zurich Zoo finances specific projects in the Masoala National Park for ten years, which will allow the population to cultivate their land in a sustainable way and to protect the rainforest. By producing young plants, by financing development projects in the National Park region and through the enlightenment of the population regarding the ecologically useful husbanding of soil, Zurich Zoo makes a major contribution to the maintenance of the rainforest.

Zurich Zoo acts as an ambassador for the conservation of a fascinating animal and plant world and creates a direct connection to this threatened paradise of diversity in Madagascar. Masoala Rainforest at Zoo Zurich is also intended to encourage visitors to see the National Park as tourists and to experience the beauty and diversity of the rainforest.


Since the Masoala Rain Forest was opened, Zoo Zürich has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Switzerland. Visitors contribute directly for the maintenance of the forest and the long-term upkeep of Masaola National Park through donations.

Thanks to generous donations by visitors and revenues from sales at the Masoala shop and restaurant(2% of which go to the Masoala Rain Forest in Madagascar) USD 100,000 - nearly one-third of the operating budget for the Masoala National Park - were covered during the first year of operation. In addition to support provided for the park security staff, rice-field irrigation and rice storage projects are funded as means of preventing further burn-clearing.

26K + description26K
©Zoo Zurich, 2002

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Site Plan
©Zoo Zurich, 2002

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Panther Chameleon (1)
©Zoo Zürich, Samuel Furrer, 2003

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Tunnel to the Masoala Rainforest (2)
©Monika Fiby, 2004

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Entering the Rainforest Hall (3)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2003

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Waterfall (4)
©Monika Fiby, 2004

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Pitcher Plants (5)
©Zoo Zürich, Othmar Röthlin, 2004

72K + description105K
Madagascan House (6)
©Zoo Zürich, 2004

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Planting (7)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2004

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Service Gangway (8)
©Monika Fiby, 2004

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Rain (9)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2004

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Weather Station (10)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2004

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View across the Masoala Rainforest Hall (11)
©Monika Fiby, 2004

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Ventilation (12)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2004

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Air Conditioning (13)
©Zoo Zürich, 2004

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Tree Ferns (14)
©Zoo Zürich, Samuel Furrer, 2004

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Aldabra Giant Tortoises (15)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2004

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Madagascar Day Gecko (16)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2004

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Red Ruffed Lemurs (17)
©Zoo Zürich, Othmar Röthlin, 2004

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Feeding Station (18)
©Monika Fiby, 2004

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Identification (19)
©Monika Fiby, 2004

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Observing Animals (20)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2004

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Masoala Weather Station (21)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2005

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Information Center (22)
©Zoo Zürich, Marcel Fierz, 2004

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Making Donations (23)
©Monika Fiby, 2004

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View from the Restaurant (24)
©Monika Fiby, 2004

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Shop (25)
©Monika Fiby, 2004



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Revised 2010-07-25
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