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ZURICH

Reader question: Do people really swim to work in Zurich?

Whether you live in Zurich or not, you may have heard stories of people swimming to work (at least in the summer months). Is it true - and how easy is it?

Urban swimming in the Limmat, Zurich's main river. Photo: Photo by Bö Benkö on Unsplash
Urban swimming in the Limmat, Zurich's main river. Photo by Bö Benkö on Unsplash

Other than for people who tend swim-up bars or perhaps for police divers, the idea of swimming to work seems ludicrous for most of us. 

This is particularly the case in most major cities. But Zurich, despite having a metro area population of around 1.5 million, is not most major cities – particularly when it comes to the city’s closeness to nature and its waterways. 

Do people swim to work in Zurich? 

Whether you live here or are just visiting, swimming is a popular pastime in Zurich. 

Swimming in the middle of the city on a warm summer's day is certainly possible in Zurich

People swimming at Wasserwerkstrasse 89 in central Zurich. Photo by Teo Zac on Unsplash

The waterways are clean and accessible – and unlike most things in Switzerland they’re either free or very cheap. 

READ MORE: Ten things people take for granted in Zurich

Swimming in rivers and in Lake Zurich is free, while visiting a Badi – a Zurich abbreviation of Swiss swimming bath – will set you back a few francs but will allow you to access basic amenities like changing rooms, toilets and cafeterias. 

Some Zurich residents have even managed to take advantage of the current of the city’s major river, the Limmat, to swim or float to work. 

A story by Germany’s Welt magazine in July 2022 spoke about the phenomenon of people swimming to or from their place of work in Switzerland’s largest city. 

“Some people in Zurich even swim to work (or, depending on the direction, home from their shift). They are easily recognisable from the bank as they have a waterproof, rope-tied swimming bag in tow in which to stow their day clothes and other belongings,” the magazine wrote

Although fewer Zurchers swim to work than claim they do, it does take place – and the fact that it is possible for part of the year is something truly special. 

How can I do it? 

Starting at Lake Zurich, the Limmat flows through the city in a north westerly direction. 

There are points to get in pretty much along the entire river, with some jumping from bridges or pontoons and others climbing in from the banks. 

A photo of Zurich's Limmat river. Image: Wikicommons/CC

A photo of Zurich’s Limmat river. Image: Wikicommons/CC

If you do choose to jump in, make sure the river is deep enough – and never dive in head first. 

Travel: How to save money while visiting Switzerland

One of the major advantages is the current, which strongly flows out of the lake and northwest towards the cantonal border with Aargau. 

The strong current means you can float along the river without needing to put in too much effort swimming. 

The disadvantage however is that the current – which continues in the same direction consistently – means even strong swimmers will be unable to swim back. 

So if you do swim to work, there’s a fair chance you won’t be swimming home. 

What about keeping my stuff dry?

Anyone swimming to work may want to take dry clothes and perhaps their phone or laptop with them. 

One option is to use a waterproof swimming bag, which not only allows you to keep your stuff dry but acts as a buoyant inflatable pillow to help you float down the river. 

There are several companies which make waterproof bags and bladders which are designed specifically for the purpose, including the Basel-based Wickelfisch. 

There are several videos available online which show people swimming the Limmat, including for work. 

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ZURICH

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

A deadly virus has swept through Zurich's zoo, killing three Asian elephants in a month. Experts are stumped about the virus and don't know how to stop its spread.

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

The zoo overlooking Switzerland’s largest city now has only five of the majestic creatures roaming its 11,000-square-metre (118,400-square-foot) elephant enclosure.

Two-year-old bull Umesh was the first to fall victim to the Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) at the end of June, followed just days later by his eight-year-old sister Omysha.

Last Saturday, Ruwani, a five-year-old female from a second matriarchal herd also died.

They succumbed at lightning speed to the herpesvirus, which leaves young Asian elephants with internal bleeding and organ failure.

In captivity, this virus is “the main cause of death for elephants between two and eight years”, zoo curator Pascal Marty told AFP.

The virus has also been known to kill elephants in the wild, he said, but “it’s a bit harder to detect”.

Last goodbye

The herpesvirus lies latent in nearly all elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, but can in some cases suddenly become deadly, killing its victims in a matter of days.

“We still don’t know why it happens and when it happens,” Marty said.

The zoo’s five remaining Asian elephants — all adults — were permitted to spend a few hours gathered around the remains of their young family members and companions.

Marty said it was important to give the animals “enough time (to) say farewell”. “It’s very hard to say whether or not they are sad, because sadness is something human,” he said.

But he stressed that since elephants are highly social animals, it is vital that they have a chance to realise when a member of their herd is no longer alive.

“It is very important for them to have closure to understand this individual is not part of our group anymore.”

Less than a week after the latest death, the giant mammals appear to be going nonchalantly about their daily activities, from swimming in a large pond to searching for food.

They slip their trunks into holes, where a computer programme randomly distributes carrots and dried grass, aiming to make the animals walk and search for food as in the wild. 

Stress 

“It is kind of sad, especially because here in Zurich I think the elephants do have enough space,” said frequent visitor Mauro Muller, 29. Zurich zoo opened its new elephant enclosure in 2014, providing its herds six times more space than they had previously.

But eight years on, the zoo acknowledged it was going through “difficult days”.

“It is particularly frustrating that we are powerless against this virus, despite the best veterinary care through the university animal hospital in Zurich,” zoo director Severin Dressen said in a statement.

There is no vaccine, and while antivirals exist, they are not very efficient and even when elephants are treated quickly, only about a third of them survive.

“The epidemiology of the disease is still not clear,” said Bhaskar Choudhury, a veterinarian and member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Elephant Specialist Group.

“The virus is shed intermittently by adults but with increasing frequency during stress periods, which is thought to be the source of infection for young calves,” he told AFP.

“IUCN is highly concerned with the mortality worldwide in captivity and more so in the wild.”

‘Ambassadors’ 

Asian elephants, which can live up to around 60 years old, are listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, with only about 50,000 left in the wild. Deforestation, urban sprawl and agricultural development have robbed them of their natural habitat, while poaching and the illegal ivory trade also threaten many herds.

“The populations are declining almost everywhere,” Marty said, adding that for conservation reasons, “it is also really important to have good and healthy populations of Asian elephants in Europe”.

Zurich zoo, he said, has one of the world’s most modern elephant enclosures, and is intent on continuing with its mission to breed them.

He described the elephants in the park as “partners” in educating people about the problems wild elephants face. “Elephants here at the zoo have an important role as ambassadors for their own species,” he said.

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