Otter Pool opens at La Garenne

In a project funded by, among others, the Bertarelli Foundation, a new otter pool has opened at La Garenne after six months of work. A first European otter – a female – has been introduced, while a male will join her soon.

The new otter area extends to over 500m² and includes a main basin of about 30 cubic metres, as well as streams with secondary basins. There are also underground areas and a burrow for the otters to shelter, rest or reproduce. Visitors to the zoo will be able to observe the otters in the main basin thanks to a bay window allowing underwater dives to be seen.

This new infrastructure was made possible thanks to the financial support of several foundations involved in nature conservation: the Bertarelli Foundation, Gelbert Foundation, OAK Foundation, Sandoz Foundation and Alfred and Eugénie Baur Foundation.

Despite its popularity, relatively little is known about the European otter and very few have been observed in the wild. Hunting and trapping led to its sharp decline in the 19th century, both for its fur and because it competed with fish. In the 20th century, new factors, such as water pollution, the development of watercourses and the regression of wetlands led to further decline. Despite being named as a protected species in 1952, the otter eventually disappeared from Switzerland.

However, towards the end of the last decade, there were signs of its return to the country. French and Austrian otter populations have been in relatively good health, but the presence of the animal in the Rhone Valley is still rare. Colonization in the country through Austria and the Inn river has, by contrast, been higher, helped by measures taken to restore river banks, reduce water pollution and to protect fish populations.

Transformation of Parc de la Garenne begins

In today’s ceremony, a foundation stone was laid in a ceremony to mark the start of the project that will transform and reinvigorate the Parc la Garenne in Le Vaud.

Founded almost 50 years ago by Erwin Meyer, the Garenne park is a much-loved place for families and children to learn about, and interact with, animals and flora native to Switzerland. However, due to its age, it has been in urgent need of regeneration, with facilities requiring an upgrade in order to continue to host both animals and visitors.

An appeal was duly launched and yesterday marked proof of its success, with the project’s first stone laid and sealed by M. le Conseiller d’Etat Philippe Leuba. The Bertarelli Foundation, in partnership with the Oak Foundation, the Mava Foundation and another that wishes to remain anonymous, has financed 40% of the total project, while the regional government and other private donors have also contributed significantly. All told, CHF12.7 million have been raised out of the total cost of CHF14.5 million. Donations from businesses and individuals to meet the gap will now be sought.

Once complete the park will be completely transformed and will cover some 30,000m². New buildings will include a health centre for wild animals in need of care, as well as the facilities to breed endangered flora and fauna. As befitting a place hugely popular with children, the project also places a big emphasis on education and a large, multi-purpose room will facilitate classes, will screen films and will show exhibitions. Throughout, the zoo will be designed with the utmost respect for the animals that it will house, particularly with regards to recreating natural conditions as far as possible.

Dona, Ernesto and Kirsty Bertarelli attended the ceremony on behalf of their family’s Foundation. In her speech at the event, Dona spoke of how they had been one of the many thousands of families to have loved the zoo as children. And so, when they heard about the appeal for funds “we almost immediately said yes, my mother first!” She then spoke of how their only stipulation was that it should be a project with a collective dynamic, all the better to ensure its sustainability, and so expressed thanks to the partner foundations and public bodies who had made it possible.

The work to transform the park should, weather permitting, take about two years, with the opening in early 2016.

Dona Bertarelli’s speech at the event can be read here.