Since 2013, Zurich resident Marc Jaeger has been the director of Planet Exotica, a park for reptiles and tourist activities on the French Atlantic coast. His zoo park is passionate about animals that scare more than one, and is the culmination of a journey filled with pitfalls.
This content was published on June 16, 2022 – 09:18
“I first went to Kenya and Tanzania when I was three years old. From that moment on, I was fascinated by reptiles and amphibians. I was looking for it all over the grass. My parents were surprised … and not very happy “, smiles Marc Jaeger. He now has 49 and his fascination is intact.
The finger in the gear
From an early age he had the opportunity to travel with his parents. Marc Jaeger’s father, who owns a fruit and vegetable import-export business, wants to “show him the different corners of the world”. The Swiss says of himself that he grew up partly in Zurich and partly in Africa when he spent many holidays there.
As a five-year-old, little Marc asked his parents for a pet. Of course, this is not a dog or a rabbit. He wants a snake. It’s going to be a corn snake. Originally from the United States, the animal with the brownish-red fur is harmless to humans. But a few months later the child complains: “Mother, my snake is too sad; he needs a friend ”. That’s how he gets another one and his collection begins.
A few detours
The years go by and when it comes to choosing which studies he wants to follow, Marc Jaeger hesitates between training in relation to animals or traveling. He decides for the Higher School of Tourism (IST)External link) from Zurich and became head of tourism.
With his diploma in hand, he first worked as an animator for travel agencies and then took over one alone. He is 25 years old and quickly realizes that this job frustrates him: “I sent people all over the world while sitting behind my desk”. The young entrepreneur then left his job to become marketing manager in a communications and event agency.
Back to first love
Alongside his jobs, Marc Jaeger still lives his passion and takes care of his reptiles. The dozens of snakes, lizards, crocodiles and other tarantulas he has acquired over the years are kept by his parents.
“I worked all day organizing events, and then I spent part of the night looking after my animals.” At this rate, the hours of sleep are counted and the dissatisfaction grows because he does not have enough time to devote to any of the activities.
As a consequence, as he always has been, the Zurich man made a choice: “Since I can not live without animals, I have decided to make animals my job”.
Marc Jaeger and his wife Patricia – a French woman who also works in the field – are arranging a first exhibition with their animals in the suburbs of Zurich. It is a resounding success and the profits allow them to buy new terrariums.
The following summer, they rent a space in Ticino and set up a larger exhibition, which is also crowned with success. Valais follows, then Ticino again.
When the animals are not on display, however, they must be kept, and the house of Marc Jaeger’s parents is no longer large enough. The couple has built a reputation in Switzerland and regularly receives reptiles confiscated by customs or the country’s veterinary services.
The spouses end up finding their happiness in Egg, a town 16 km southeast of Zurich, where they rent a cellar large enough to accommodate the entire menagerie. They founded ReptilEXPO zoo there.
“At one point we had so many animals that were also growing that the place started to run dry.” They are looking for premises in Switzerland, but suitable places are out of budget.
The hunt for the Grail
Marc and Patricia Jaeger then decide to move abroad. They first think of Southeast Asia, then they consider Florida or even Spain. However, the possibilities fall apart one after the other because the rules of the place are either too restrictive or the zoos are located in places that are not conducive to tourism.
Finally, it is Patricia Jaeger’s family that draws the couple’s attention to an opportunity in Royan (the Charente-Maritime department). The “Gardens of the World” is a former botanical park of almost 8 hectares, opened in 2000 and closed in 2011. Marc Jaeger begins negotiations with the town hall in Royan, and they find an agreement on a lease of several years. We are in 2011.
The house that drives you crazy
In Switzerland, the man from Zurich has had all the necessary permits for the detention of dangerous animals for several decades. However, these are not valid in France and he is forced to start all over again.
“In Switzerland, everything is written down exactly in the rules. You then arrange, an expert comes to validate and in two to three weeks you will receive your authorization. Here it is necessary to mount a file almost 10 centimeters thick, which due to the desired details makes 5 times the round trip. Then you have to copy it in several copies and wait months before you are called for an interview by a suitability committee, which must decide whether you want to give yourself authorization or not. Everything goes to the Departmental Directorate for the Protection of Populations (DDPP), on which the veterinary services depend. It prepares a report, which is submitted to the prefect for decision. In total, it takes almost a year to receive authorization! ”
And to ironize: “And this is only the first part. Then you need an authorization to start a business! ”
Marc Jaeger receives a preliminary certificate of capacity, which allows him to open the park in 2013 without animals and then in 2014 with its residents. In all, more than two years passed between the agreement with Royan City Hall and the opening of Planet ExoticaExternal link.
After this journey worthy of Twelve works by Asterix, the Swiss is somewhat disillusioned: “If I had known all this, I would certainly have chosen another country. But at some point you have invested so much money, time and energy that you can not go back ”.
Acceptance of the people of Royan is not immediate because the chaotic history of the world gardens is still in their minds. “And then comes a little Swiss who takes over this huge business to put snakes in it, imagine!”, Says Marc Jaeger laughing.
Today he is very happy and integrated in Royan. Its park works well and attracts many families. In a turn on the path, he likes to tell visitors how he spent a night warming up an almost stillborn baby alpaca with a hair dryer, or he talks lovingly to them about Candy, a female alligator that comes running when he calls. Marc Jaeger has dozens of anecdotes about the animals that make up the eclectic fauna of Planet Exotica.
Because if the desert and the tropical greenhouses remain the heart of the project, the park also houses, among other things, resin dinosaurs, an Indian village, a Japanese garden, a Tuscan garden, alpacas and a whole tribe of guinea pigs. “We have diversified the attractions to appeal to as many people as possible, and also because many people are afraid of reptiles,” says the shrewd businessman.
But Marc Jaeger’s greatest pride is to be able, thanks to his impressive collection of 400 animals, to contribute to the conservation of several endangered species. Between 200 and 300 baby snakes, crocodiles and lizards are born each year in the park’s kindergarten. One part is used for its own renewal and another for exchange with other zoos.
Planet Exotica is also a research center that welcomes researchers from all over the world. They come here to study animal behavior. Marc Jaeger states: “Currently, a team is working on how baby crocodiles communicate when they are scared, and a study will be done on how snakes swim”.
The park also collaborates with laboratories that harvest snake venom for pharmaceutical or cosmetic purposes. “We have discovered that black mamba poison has painkillers that are five to ten times stronger than morphine!”, Says the Swiss full of enthusiasm.
Finally, Planet Exotica serves as a training center for people who want to keep poisonous and / or dangerous animals. And as if that were not enough, Marc Jaeger founded the travel agency Herpsafari, which specializes in observing reptiles in their natural environment.
Only one accident
During all the years he has spent dealing with animals with sometimes deadly venom, the native Zurich has been the victim of only one accident. “But it was my fault,” he almost defends himself. “When there is an accident, it is always human fault, never animal”. The venom from the snake that bites him will be worth to him ten days of hospital “with an arm that was quadrupled in volume and resting on ice to make it empty”.
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