Double festivity: Madagascar House opens in the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden as the island nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence.
During the summer, the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden opened its Madagascar House, the first truly major exhibit for a variety of lemurs, birds, reptiles and amphibians, most of which are endemic to the African island state. While primary focus of the exhibit is on the flora and fauna of Madagascar, it also seeks ways to provide an insight into the lifestyles and cultures of its inhabitants as well as their relation to nature.
“The choice of timing for the auspicious occasion was by no means a coincidence as the Republic of Madagascar gained full independence from France exactly fifty years ago,” explains Richard Lalarison Randrianasolo, Honorary Consul of Madagascar for Hungary, who delivered his opening address before a large audience of high-ranking guests and diplomats on the premises of what is now the architecturally renovated monkey house, originally built in 1912. The popular establishment in the City Park had to rely on its own financial resources to cover the costs of the 12 million forint reconstruction.
In his speech, Randrianasolo stressed the crucial role of the new establishment as a groundbreaking endeavour to further strengthen the bonds between Hungary and the small island nation in yet another field. He was pleased to add that “the exhibit will act as a strong magnet for future visitors to the Budapest Zoo, as the island can boast an unusually rich fauna that people could only see on television before. It is particularly delightful that, in addition to the animals, the scope of the exhibit also encompasses issues of geography, ethnography and anthropology, all of which provide an excellent overview of the whole country, its unique traditions and its proud inhabitants. Additionally, children will take immense pleasure in discovering a slice of Madagascar, popularised by the animated box-office hit of the same title. Four subspecies of lemurs inhabit the new establishment. Visitors can even venture into the spacious cage where the playful black lemurs are kept. A must-do for everyone.” Miklos Persányi, Chief Director of the Budapest Zoo and György G. Németh, President of the Hungarian-Madagascar Friendship Association attended the event. Persanyi emphasised that “the exhibit stretches beyond the zoological and botanical interests with which a project of this kind would usually concern itself. Of especial importance are the constant references to Móric Benyovszky, the Hungarian-born traveller, scientist, soldier and philanthropist, who served as a link between Hungarians and the Malagasy people. In fact, the inhabitants of Madagascar recognised Benyovszky as their own king.”
Commenting on the new exhibit, Persányi said that “the majority of these animals are indigenous to Madagascar. Our experts have recently got hold of one part of them, while some of the animals had already lived elsewhere in the zoo.” Persányi added that “the uniqueness of the island’s fauna lies in the diversity of its species and in the enormous number of those animals which are endemic to Madagascar. It is not by mere chance that the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) organised a 12-month-campaign for the protection and introduction of Madagascar’s flora and fauna – a large-scale project in which the Budapest Zoo also participated.”
What’s more, a street in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, has been named after Benyovszky, and a statue was erected in his memory in Maroantsetra. During an expedition in 2003 the Hungarian-Madagascar Friendship Association and the locals set up a bilingual commemorative board. G. Németh explained that “it has been a token of friendship and reciprocity between the two countries to erect the counterpart of the same statue by the Madagascar House in the Budapest Zoo.” Randrianasolo wittily remarked that “besides bringing moments of joy in the lives of young and old, the frolicsome lemurs of the new Madagascar House are also diplomats par excellence: with their presence in Hungary, they also strive to strengthen good contacts between the two countries by showing the natural diversity of Madagascar.”