Visitors to the Philadelphia Zoo might want to beware of stray cats: A new enclosed passageway allows lions and tigers to roam outside their exhibits.
Humans, though, can safely gawk at the predators traveling along Big Cat Crossing. The protected, open-air path snakes above the felines’ habitat to an archway over the zoo’s main promenade and ends at a viewing spot along a lake.
The concept for the catwalk unveiled Wednesday stems from the increasingly common practice of animal rotation, which lets animals take in new stimuli while visitors encounter them in unexpected places.
Big carnivores are roamers, and prefer to have lots of space to patrol. Being able to get a cat’s eye view of their zoo is so much healthier for them, and gives them the enrichment and psychological and physical space they need to stay healthy.
I had heard about the plans to create this space, so it’s really nice to see it implemented and in action.
I am so excited about this I’m practically jumping out my seat to tell people. I first read about it in USA Today; animals are getting to wander outside of their exhibits, share spaces with other animals, and over all just chill around the zoo. Yup, that’s right:
The Philadelphia Zoo on Thursday opens the first leg of an ambitious enclosed trail system designed to allow large animals such as great apes, bears and big cats to roam throughout the zoo. It will give them access to one another’s habitats in a kind of time-share arrangement and offer visitors a closer look at wild animals behaving like wild animals.
Other U.S. zoos have created paths between exhibits, mixed habitats, elevated paths or rope swings for apes.
“This is an emerging trend” among zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, says the group’s senior vice president for external affairs, Steve Feldman. “Great animal care means providing for animals’ physical and psychological welfare. These pathways and rotations really allow them that kind of stimulation.”
The Philadelphia Zoo’s program is the first to encompass the entire zoo. “This campus-wide effort to build this trail system is unique,” Feldman says. “It’s innovative and is really taking that trend to the next level.”
Because it’s the first effort of its kind, “we don’t have a road map to see how others have done it,” says Vik Dewan, the Philadelphia Zoo’s chief executive officer. The system “puts animal well-being first and foremost,” he says, and gives visitors “an experience here, that when combined with other experiences, paints the bigger picture of how they could be more effective stewards of the world.”
The critters will have to “timeshare” so the orangutans won’t be hanging out with the brown bears. In fact the bears might not get a chance to use the pathways until winter when it’s too cold for the primates. But that said, it’s sure to be a boon for the animals, as well as for the people. The zookeepers already report seeing a positive result from a similar vine system in their primate exhibit.
The article mentions other zoos starting to move in this direction. But which ones, and what exactly are they up to? I’m curious to learn more. Any hints? Leave them in the comments below.
animals given access to the new trail are expected to be more active and
to benefit from the stimulation of being able to see visitors and other
animals from a new perspective.
That’s right, I will be presenting a brown bag at Woodland Park Zoo on Thursday, November 18th, regarding my research with visitors to the WPZ’s gorilla exhibit. That’s next week, eep!
I have been volunteering with WPZ since June of 2009. During the summers of 2009 and 2010, I studied how visitors interacted with the exhibit, the gorillas, and what lessons visitors took away with them. I also interviewed visitors about their emotional responses to the gorillas.
I was amazed by how strongly people identified with gorillas, pointing out similarities between their hands, their facial expressions, and what they ate (even though Gorillas are vegetarians). They wanted to know how old the gorillas were, who was the mom and dad, if they got along, did they get bored, and all sorts of comments that indicated a high level of empathy. Interestingly, if people had read the signs they would have answered a lot of their own questions…
I will discuss what visitors responded to, what they learned, and what visitors missed.
He focuses mostly on his personal interactions with the animals in the first half of the article (not to downplay those; a couple of moments as he describes them are amazing!), but I think the most important part of his article in the latter third where he discusses the health of animals when interacting with humans. Since my graduate work has been focused on what we can do to help enrich animals lives (including humans), I found this part particularly applicable to my own life and studies. But that’s just me.
Speaking of, I should really be writing my thesis right now…which hopefully explains the sporadic posting over the past, well, two years, but hopefully that will soon change. In the meantime…hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to word-processing I go…