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IN NUMBERS: How Zurich’s foreign population has more than doubled

The proportion of foreigners living in Switzerland’s largest city Zurich is now more than twice as high as it was 60 years ago. This is what the situation was then and now.

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay

With a population of 440,181 people, Zurich is not only the biggest Swiss city, but also has one of the highest concentrations of foreigners, according to latest data released by municipal authorities.

About 32 percent of the city’s permanent residents are currently immigrants, but what’s interesting to note is that their number has grown more than twofold in over half a century.

“Sixty years ago, around 64,000 foreigners lived in Zurich; today there are 140,000. The proportion of foreigners is currently more than twice as high as it was then (32.2 versus 14.5 percent)”, municipal authorities said in a press release.

READ MORE: Where do Switzerland’s foreigners all live?

One of the possible reasons for this growth in international residents — in Zurich as well as in Switzerland in general — was the the Free Movement of Persons agreement which Bern and Brussels signed in 1999, and which lifted restrictions on EU citizens wishing to live or work in Switzerland. 

There are, however, differences in demographics between 1962 and present time.

In 1962, Italians were the largest foreign group in Zurich, accounting for 44 percent of all foreigners, while today Germans constitute the largest group (23 percent).

This corresponds to the national trend, as Italians and Germans still make up the largest proportion of foreigners in Switzerland as a whole.

Image :Federal Statistical Office

Then and now

Zurich’s data also reveals other facts about its resident population, which could be of interest to anyone living in the city or planning to move there.

For instance:

  • Zurich experienced its first “growth spurt” in 1893, when the city counted 316,000 inhabitants.
  • The resident population grew rapidly in the 1940s and 1950s, and the highest number was reached in 1962: 440,180 people (only one less than presently)
  • By 1989, the population had fallen below 356,000 people.
  • Since the beginning of the 21 century, Zurich has been growing again, picking up in strength from 2010 onwards.

Today, Zurich is Switzerland’s economic powerhouse, with many international businesses located in its vicinity.

READ MORE: Jobs: Why Zurich has rebounded better than other Swiss cities from Covid

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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. 


“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.”


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.