Ark for Small Creatures

Ark for Small Creatures
Tiny animals uncovered!

Unique in France, the Ark for Small Creatures is an impressive 500 m2 eco-building dedicated to small animals which are poorly known by the general public. The exhibit aims to introduce these unusual species of invertebrates, vertebrates and amphibians in a fun and unusual way.

Presentation: The Ark for Small Creatures

The Ark for Small Creatures: tiny animals on show!

The aim of this project – the only one of its kind in France – is to find a new way to present these "small creatures", for the most part amphibians and invertebrates, and show the public how amazingly diverse and ecologically important they are. The Ark for small creatures sits in the grounds of the Thoiry Château & Wildlife Park and provides visitors with the chance to see small-known species in attractive surroundings that provide optimum living conditions for the animals. The building itself is very unusual. It was designed by Colomba de La Panouse- Turnbull, as a huge 500 m2 boat made of wood and hemp, partially submerged in the midst of a European wet zone and topped with a living roof. The Ark is also an example of our commitment to sustainable development at the Thoiry Château & Wildlife Park. Visitors enter the Ark through an opening in the stern and are then taken through 5 different zones, moving from the dark to the light, both literally and on a scientific and philosophical journey. The visit starts with a warning zone, followed by a fact-finding stage where the species on show act as sentinels for the environment and draw visitors’ attention to the urgent need to take action in order to safeguard biodiversity. Into a second zone, containing a weird and wondrous world, the visitor discovers amazing animals with strange morphology, physiology and behaviour. Some of these "small creatures" may even look rather frightening! The third zone provides a focus for learning all about these rather neglected species and appreciating their true value. The last 2 zones reveal a world in need of protection and emphasise the interdependence between Man and the other animal species. These small creatures perform a wide range of jobs that are extremely useful to human beings who, in turn, play an essential role in preserving a balanced environment. As they move through these 5 zones, visitors can discover around 70 species of animal from every continent and from a broad range of environments. The 45 vivariums where the animals live have been specially designed to meet their differing needs in terms of temperature, light, moisture, surfaces, plants and lifestyles, to reproduce their particular ecosystems as closely as possible. Around 40 species of plant furnish the interiors of these vivariums, which have been designed to give the visitor the impression, in the case of tiny species, of being an honoured observer of miniature worlds and, in the case of larger species, of being taken right into their ecosystems. Axolotls, Vietnamese mossy frogs, crocodile newts, Mexican red kneed tarantulas, golden mantels, panther chameleons, helmeted lizards and Marañon poison frogs can be seen here, not forgetting various mammals, such as the Eurasian harvest mouse and pygmy marmoset. As they move through the Ark, visitors pass by the nurseries where they can look through the windows and watch the newborn animals. At the centre of the Ark is Noah’s Cabin. Noah is a young explorer for our times, who invites you to stop awhile and find out about nature and conservation. Hear the tale of his voyage and have fun discovering the ways Man has found to learn about and safeguard these environments and their naked, scaly or furry hosts!

Zone 1: Threats to the Environment

Moon jellyfish and hermit crabs are two sentinels of the environment, bio-indicators of changes in the marine environment, their abundance or scarcity evidence of abnormalities. These animals alert us when to take action to safeguard biodiversity.

© Scénographie Médiéval - AfDP / G.Grammon

Zone 2 : a strange and wonderful world

Animals sometimes have physical features, bodily functions and behaviours which are absolutely amazing!

© Scénographie Médiéval - AfDP / G.Grammon

Zone 3 : a little-known and frightening world

These animals frighten us because we don’t know and understand them.

Zone 4 : a world that we have come to know

To learn about living things we must study them, define what links them to their environment and to other living things, and then understand man’s place in this community of life.

© Scénographie Médiéval - AfDP / G.Grammon

Zone 5 : a useful and fragile world which needs preserving

The small creatures are useful to humans in many ways. Conversely, man plays a role in maintaining the balance of the environment. The Ark for Small Creatures is an illustration of this interdependence.

© Scénographie Médiéval - AfDP / G.Grammon

© Scénographie Médiéval - AfDP / G.Grammon

Éditorial de Colomba de La Panouse-Turnbull

For several years now I have wanted the Thoiry Chateau & Wildlife Park to be involved in the conservation of amphibians and invertebrates - animals often forgotten in zoos - all the while wondering how best to present them to the public. These species are far more numerous than mammals and equally important in terms of biodiversity. In 2007 I met Dr. Kevin Zippel, program director of the international organisation ‘Amphibian Ark’ to get advice on my project, and consulted its website regularly to keep abreast of its activities. The term "Amphibian Ark" was therefore already very present in my mind... In 2008 I undertook an extensive tour of zoos abroad. During a visit to the National Zoo in Washington, I met Jim Murphy of the Smithsonian Institute, a renowned herpetologist with whom we had worked previously. He explained that we were potentially facing a mass extinction of amphibians. This strengthened my belief in the need to educate the public about the conservation of the world’s "small animals", but it still had to be fun and attractive. On the way back on the plane, I was sketching while thinking about creating a star attraction for amphibians and invertebrates at Thoiry. Suddenly, looking at my drawing, I realized that I had spontaneously drawn an ark. It struck me that we needed to build an ark, "The Ark for Small Creatures", in Thoiry. At the same time I feared the idea was somewhat far-fetched: to build a giant boat in a meadow located in a listed park. However, Thoiry has always been avant-garde in its presentation of animals. My father, Paul La Panouse, created the African Reserve in 1968, bringing several species of herbivores together on 60 ha of land; a first in Europe. He continued to innovate, building the glass tunnels that put our visitor’s right amongst our tigers and lions, like prey to these big cats. I threw myself into the project, specifying from the outset the desired architectural style: an eco- innovative bioclimatic building with turf roof, hemp & lime walls, and a wetland for local wildlife. Our head of conservation, Dr. Cathy Gibault, was immediately enthusiastic and supported this approach from the beginning. My father, my brother Edmond de La Panouse, president of the zoological park, and our CEO, Olivier Meliz were all in support. Thus, we were able to embark on the creation of the Ark of Small Creatures, putting Thoiry once again at the forefront of originality in terms of zoological presentation. This new facility combines perfectly Thoiry’s dedication to conservation and involvement in sustainable development. Amphibians and invertebrates face grave threats to their survival, and I hope that this project of conservation and education will resonate with you..

The three main aims of the Ark for Small Creatures

To be a breeding and conservation centre for species of invertebrates and amphibians under threat.

Today, 1,392,342 species of invertebrates have been identified, including 6,771 amphibians, compared with 64,283 vertebrates. Many of these invertebrates and amphibians are now close to extinction, a fact that seems to be met with general indifference. These animals are, however, essential for a balanced biodiversity. The area of the Ark open to the public presents around 70 little-known species of invertebrates and amphibians and also has a nursery area called the "breeding zone". This area has windows through which visitors can still see the animals as they care for their young. Since 2002, Thoiry Château & Wildlife Park has been involved in the ex situ breeding of six species of Partula snail (P. gibba, P. hyalina, P. tristis, P. dentifera, P. mooreana and P. suturalis vexillum), four of which now no longer exist in the wild. It is also working on the in situ conservation of Partula through the Thoiry Peaugres Conservation (TPC) endowment fund. With the Ark for little creatures, the Thoiry Château & Wildlife Park is now playing a much bigger part in the conservation of invertebrates and amphibians. It has also started to extend its activities by participating in the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for the Frigate Island giant tenebrionid beetle (Polposipus herculeanus), and providing a home for the Giant Ditch Frog (Leptodactylus fallax), which is very rare in the wild and the subject of a reintroduction programme initiated by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

To provide an educational and entertaining way of raising public awareness about sustainable development and conserving biodiversity.

It was natural for Colomba de La Panouse-Turnbull to design a building representing an Ark, as this structure immediately symbolises the idea of safeguarding animal diversity. Through this new exhibit, she also hopes to introduce the public to the concept of sustainable development. It was obvious, therefore, to choose an eco-construction to support this idea. Many of the species that the public can see in the Ark have been chosen for their rarity or interest from the point of view conservation, but also for their educational impact. Zoos now play an essential role in nature conservation through their capacity to raise awareness and educate a growing number of visitors, around 20 million a year in France. The animals in the Ark therefore bear witness to the vast diversity of amphibians and invertebrates on our planet, whether through their appearance, survival strategy or adaptation to their living environments. By stimulating curiosity, these ambassadors will help to draw attention to other, less spectacular but more vulnerable species to be found in the Ark's breeding zones. The design of the interiors, depicting the different habitats, coupled with the chance to learn with Noah and Zoé, and his friend the frog, all help towards this goal to educate and raise awareness. You end up learning as much from visiting the Ark for little creatures as you would from a long lecture, but this way you have fun at the same time!


An eco-construction that minimises its impact on the environment.

To match the strongly-held convictions of Colomba de La Panouse-Turnbull and her brother Edmond de La Panouse, the Ark project had to be ecologically sound and with a low environmental impact during construction. The Ark is therefore a green building that saves energy, including grey energy – the energy expended in extraction and/or manufacturing, transport, use and recycling of a material at the end of its life. The infrastructure is built with renewable and/or recyclable materials and meets the requirements for bioclimatic building: high-performance insulation and thermal inertia, rainwater management and harvesting, water filtration, etc. The Ark has also been built with materials from the regions of France – Jura pine for the frame, untreated Douglas fir from Puy de Dôme for the external cladding, local earth for the roof – as these have the advantage of requiring little or no transport or having low production energy costs, or even being largely recyclable (hemp concrete for the walls). Lastly, in addition to providing protection for endangered exotic species, the Ark for little creatures also does its bit for the local environment. The planting on the roof provides rainwater management and drainage. This living roof creates a connection to the ground providing a green corridor of climbing plants that helps to restore an ecosystem in the construction area and reduce the building’s footprint. The creation of a wet zone around the building also encourages amphibians and invertebrates in the area to recolonise the site. In order to measure this recolonisation of the area by local flora and fauna, a scientific protocol has been set up between the Thoiry Château & Wildlife Park, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (Centre of competence in green roofs) and the association Nature en Toit. This involves studying the impact on the flora and microfauna, for example through inventories and surveys.

Why is it important to protect invertebrates?

A major part of the animal kingdom

Invertebrates are, by definition, animals without bones or a spinal column. They encompass a variety of groups and contain the largest number of species and the greatest volume of organisms in the animal kingdom - insects, molluscs, crustacea, arachnids, annelids, echinoderms and cnidaria – representing nearly 97% of the animals in the world, i.e. 1.4 million identified species according to the latest report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Around 10,000 new species are discovered every year. According to this report, 20% of invertebrates are estimated to be under threat of extinction. It is often the case that little is known about these species and they do not receive the same attention in terms of conservation as other more charismatic animals, such as large African mammals; but they still have an important role to play in ecology and are essential for the survival of other living organisms and for the balance of ecosystems.

Their roles and values

Food resources
Invertebrates are an important source of food for others species, and mainly for vertebrates. They are often at the bottom of the food chain and have a major role to play. For Man, beekeeping, the breeding of crustacea and growing of shellfish are important sources of food and have an economic value.

Soil formation and fertility
Many invertebrates liFwarve in the ground and interact with each other and with plants. They therefore play a part in the decomposition and recycling of organic matter, aerating the soil or fixing carbon in the earth. These activities also help with the absorption of nutrients by plants and so contribute to improving plant production and increasing crop yields.

Water filtration and purity
Aquatic invertebrates play a part in maintaining or restoring the quality of water. Filtering water and sediments, purifying, fixing pollutants are just some of the jobs they do. Many molluscs, insects and larvae live in fresh water and play a very important part in the food chain as secondary producers. Aquatic invertebrates also need specific conditions in order to live: temperature, purity, light are essential ecological properties. They are therefore used as bio-indicators, their presence or absence providing information on the state of pollution of the water.

Pollination and agriculture
Pollination is one way for plants to reproduce. In self-pollination, a grain of pollen is carried from the plant’s male reproductive organ, the stamen, to the female reproductive organ, the pistil. In cross-pollination it is carried to another plant of the same species. Insects play a major role in pollination. The part played directly by insects in the reproduction of flowers and fruiting plants helps in the mixing of plant genes and ensures diversity and the survival of the living world. The services provided by pollinating insects are vital in agriculture, as around 35% of the volume of what we eat (fruits, vegetables, spices, etc.) depends on pollination by animals.

Biological protection
Biological protection preserves crops from pests by encouraging biological attack, in other words using animals to prey on the attackers. Known as auxiliary organisms, they take the place of pesticides, plant health products and phytopharmaceuticals and protect crops while being environmentally friendly and restoring balance to the ecosystems.

Auxiliaries in the medical field
The study of insects has led to great advances in a number of life science disciplines, and also in the understanding of fundamental biological mechanisms. Through researching the ability of insects to resist bacterial and fungal attack, it has recently been possible to isolate molecules of medical interest in fields ranging from antimicrobials (viruses, bacteria) to anti-cancer molecules. There are also more anecdotal accounts, nevertheless important, of certain carrion insects being used in forensics to help the police determine time of death in homicides.

Aesthetic value
The invertebrates group contains a myriad of species of very varied forms and stunning colours, an infinite source of wonderment and pleasure.

Amphibians – Small Animals in Danger

Did you know that….

More than 300 million years ago, amphibians were the first vertebrates to occupy land? And now amphibians are the most threatened class of animals in the world. Most amphibians have a permeable skin that makes them susceptible to the various pollutants in the environment. Moreover, the complexity of their life cycle (Wilbur 1980) and their dependence on wet environments for reproduction make them excellent indicators of the quality of ecosystems (Pounds et al. 1999). Amphibians are sensitive to the physical and chemical changes in their habitat (e.g. scarcity of breeding sites, pollution, eutrophication), biological disturbance of the ecosystem (e.g. presence of predators, introduction of invasive species) and to changes in climatic conditions (e.g. reduced humidity, increased temperature). They also provide information on the state of the soil that they use as a summer habitat or for hibernation. Thus an attack on one or other of the components of the ecosystem can rapidly be identified by a decline in population or the extinction of the species. Also, a wide diversity of amphibians often reflects the diversity of water bodies (Rhimou El Hamoumi & Oumnia Himmi 2010).