General Thoughts

4 Key Take-Aways from the Recent Zoo Design Conference

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I was lucky to attend (and present at) The International Zoo Design Conference held in Poland in 2017. Many speakers from around the world talked about their experiences designing habitats or theorizing on the future of zoos and aquariums. While the majority of attendees were from Europe, folks from South America, Africa, and many countries in Asia presented their unique points of view. Although the theme was "Designing for Enrichment," four much deeper lessons held with me for continued thought and on-going discussion for the continued evolution of zoos and aquariums around the world. In this article originally posted to Blooloop.com, I explain those four take-aways:

  1. Euro & American Zoos are Cousins, branching from the same ancestor like an evolutionary tree.

  2. Dynamism as a new goal and design inspiration in everything habitat related.

  3. Rethink the measure and definition of success for species in captivity.

  4. Guests require that zoos care for the their animals as priority one, but often do not understand what good animal care is.

Take a look, and let me know your thoughts!

Happy Anniversary! 10 Years of DesigningZoos.com

Can you believe this summer marks ten years of my little corner of the internet talking about design and the future of zoos and aquariums? Although my posting has become more infrequent as my professional life has evolved, you--my supportive and sometimes thoughtfully critical reader--remain constant. I owe you a huge Thank You for reading my ramblings, and contributing your thoughts. For funsies, I thought we'd review a few of the highlights from the past 10 years and over 200 posts!

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Top Ten All-Time-Most-Popular Posts (by visits)

10. "Visitors: An Overlooked Species at the Zoo" (2013) by guest blogger and colleague, Eileen (Ostermeier) Hill. Discusses the critical importance of visitor studies at zoos, some hurdles to studies, and the role of designers relative to visitor studies.

9. "The Future of Zoos: Blurring the Boundaries" (2014) a second entry by guest blogger and obviously brilliant colleague, Eileen Hill. Powerpoint presentation with script about trends in zoos today and how they may play out into zoos of the future. Eileen proposes zoos of the future will by hybrids of multiple science based institutions.

8. "St. Louis Zoo's SEA LION SOUND" (2012). Showcasing the then-new exhibit at the Zoo including fly-thru video, photos of new exhibit, and interview with one of the architects from PGAV Destinations who helped bring the design into reality.

7. "SAFARI AFRICA! Revealed at Columbus Zoo" (2012). Announcement of the ground-breaking of the eventual AZA Top Honors in Design award-winning Heart of Africa (renamed). Includes renderings and site plan.

6. "Underdogs: The Appeal of the Small Zoo" (2013). Exploration of what makes small zoos so appealing to visitors, and meaningful to work for as a designer. Features Binder Park Zoo, Central Florida Zoo, and Big Bear Alpine Zoo.

5. "In Marius' Honor" (2014) by guest blogger and now Project Manager at the esteemed Monterey Bay Aquarium, Trisha Crowe. Trisha explores her emotional reaction to the Copenhagen Zoo's disposal of Marius the giraffe, and implores readers to support zoos, no matter your stance on animal rights.

4. "Small and Sad: Dubai Zoo's Relocation on Hold Again" (2009). Occurred to me today, should have been title "Small and SAND", but the sad state of the old zoo is what made this post so popular. Includes design plans and renderings--which I am sure are woefully out of date. Anyone have any updates??

3. "How to Become a Zoo Designer" (2014). After about 25,000 emails from aspiring zoo designers asking similar questions, I just went ahead and wrote it up to shortcut a step... Still, feel free to email me--I always write back. Let's be pen pals!

2. "The Next Zoo Design Revolution" (2008). One of my very first posts, which explains the popularity. Some say naïve, some say gutsy look at incremental revolution in zoos. The future of zoos has been examined at least 300 times since this one, but in re-reading, I see some kernels of accuracy. Expect an update soon...

And in the #1 spot....

1. "A Quick Lesson in Zoo Design History" (2008). Perhaps my second post ever, which again explains it's number 1 spot. A not-as-advertised look at zoo design history which, I have a feeling, has been referenced by many of the 25,000 students (above) in their zoo projects. Holla at me if you cited me!

Top Ten Recommended Reads for Zoo Designers (aside from those above)

10. "To Safari or Night Safari" (2008). I'm a sucker for the title. But this post examines the very slow to catch on trend of after-hours programming or extended zoo hours as a feasible method to increase attendance. Post-posting amendment: in particular, this is a great strategy for targeting adults without kids.

9. "Does Winter Have to be a Dead Zone at the Zoo?" (2013). I cheated a little on this one. I didn't actually post to DZ.com, but to my blog at Blooloop.com where many of my more recent posts have been landing. This one discusses another strategy to increase attendance by targeting the most difficult time of year for temperate zoos: winter.

8. "Zoo Exhibits in Three Acts" (2011). Storytelling in zoo exhibits, told through, what else?: a story.

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7. "8 Characteristics of Brand Experience" (2018). A new one! Understanding what makes strong brands so very strong is important and applicable to new attractions at zoos and aquariums. Examined through the lens of non-zoo brands, like my fav: OrangeTheory.

6. "Interactivity and Zoos" (2013). Examining the different modes of interactivity that are available in zoos, and how they can be applied to experience. A good primer.

5. "How Animal Behavior Drives Zoo Design" (2011). Starting with animals in design can be overwhelming. What information is pertinent to a designer, and what is just interesting to know. Another good primer for learning the basics of zoo design.

4. "Chasing Big Cats: Snow Leopards and Perseverance" (2017). Being a good designer is about so much more than just having cool ideas and being able to communicate them well. Learn the qualities intangible qualities that make good designers, GREAT. Don't be afraid...hint, hint.

3. "Making Responsible Tacos: Conservation Brand Perception at Zoos and Aquariums" (2015). Adapted from a talk I gave, I examine how aspirational brand should translate to experience in zoos and aquariums using the popular taco analogy. Yum. Tacos.

2. "Five Zoo Innovations that have been around for Decades"Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 (2014). Again, pulled from Blooloop. A series of 5 posts examining design elements and characteristics that American zoos have been implementing for decades. This series was an angry reaction to the 'revolutionary' design of metal pods floating through a zoo in Europe. A woman scorned...publishes 5 posts to prove how you don't know anything about innovation. Ha!

1. "Zoos in a Post Truth World" (2017). What every zoo and aquarium advocate needs to consider in this continued atmosphere of skepticism, critique, and distrust. As a zoo designer, you must be aware of changing perceptions and the power we have to shape them.

Top Ten Things I Learned in the Last Ten Years (Blogging or Otherwise...)

10. I'm not shy; I'm introverted

9. How to poop in a hole while wearing 3 three layers of snow pants

9a. Always pack enough Pepto tabs (at least 2 per day while away)

8. I'm not good at social media (see: 10 years of blogging and 600 Twitter followers, probably mostly for cat pics)

7. And speaking of cats, the rubbery buttons of a TV's remote control makes said remote an easy tool to remove cat hair from sofas and pants

6. I sleep better when flying in Business Class

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5. Always pay the extra money to hire movers to load and unload that U-Haul

4. Writing isn't hard. Just start typing and...

3. Confidence

2. I lose all 'adultness' around ice cream and baby animals

1. Zoo and aquarium people are really the best people in the world.

Here's to many more decades of Zoo & Aquarium design!

With love and respect--

Your friend, Stacey

Finding Environmental Hope in Unexpected Places

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I didn't really know what to expect from a climate change summit held on the campus of a Catholic university. But the message was no different there than if it had been held elsewhere: things are bad--really bad--but the solution is held in our own mirrors. Carl Pope pointed our three types of people who may be hurdles to environmental solutions, while Bill Nye rambunctiously described the people who he believes holds the key. Read more about the conference and these two different-but-similar keynote speakers over at Blooloop.

Guided Travel with Millennials: A New Revenue Stream?

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With this blog post at Blooloop.com I explored the idea of creating intentional and robust travel programs with zoos and aquariums that target their widest and core audience: Millennials. Many zoos and aquariums currently have limited travel programs that may occur infrequently, are largely under-marketed, and are mostly targeted at "big pockets" spenders for nurturing into major donors in the future. I examined why a less expensive and more robust offering could prove to be a lucrative investment in resources for the organization while also aligning perfectly with mission.  

The Power of Partnerships: Zoos Joining Forces with Animal Welfare Organizations

logoA snippet of my quite controversial post over at Blooloop.com about my naively optimistic wish of eliminating the US vs THEM mentality that has invaded every aspect of our world: "But my real wish, my dream, is of, “what an amazing world this would be’ if we could all join forces. We could unite over a common cause: working to protect the remaining non-captive animal populations from extinction. Let’s join together the very best characteristics from both sides of the aisle. Join the mega audience of zoos and aquariums, (with an attendance greater than all professional sports combined), with the marketing, messaging and PR skills of the animal rights groups, whose ability to incite passionate action is unrivalled.

Let’s redirect our efforts for productivity, for proactivity, and stop fighting each other. We need to listen and learn; critically review our policies and procedures, create new programs, and focus. Let’s save habitats and wildlife. Because really, we’re all on this earth together, so why not be all in this together?"

8 Characteristics of Great Brand Experiences

My latest post to Blooloop.comorangetheory-attractions-brands[1] is now live! In this article, I explore the appeal of today's competition to zoos and aquariums: sports, games, streaming services, fitness, and festivals by looking at their common attributes. By understanding what draws people in and keeps them coming back, we can apply those same attributes to our attractions' designs--and even develop non-attraction attractions (creative marketing experiences?) that may be temporary in nature, but increase revenues and drive attendance.

Check out the article here.

Building Public Trust: AZA Workshop

On Monday, September 11, PGAV Destinations led a session highlighting market research that explored the question "how can we affect public perception of zoos and aquariums?" The session included brief presentations by 9 panelists, including Bob Cisneros from Big Bear Alpine Zoo, Mark Fisher from Cincinnati Zoo, John Walczak from Louisville Zoo, Bill Street from SeaWorld, Chris Schmitz from Utah's Hogle Zoo, Magdaline Southard from Monterey Bay Aquarium, Kimberley Lengel from Philadelphia Zoo, Kevin Mills from South Carolina Aquarium (presented by Emily Howard of PGAV), and Stacey Ludlum from PGAV. Individual presentations unfortunately ran 20 minutes longer than anticipated, and the majority of our session audience did not participate in the workshop. However, we did have two intrepid groups discuss their hypothetical issues. Those results are below.

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Question One:

You are a large, well-known aquarium with a large percentage of attendance from tourism. Your staff is highly respected within the industry for its innovative husbandry solutions and ability to breed and sustain longevity for its animals, but on-site market research has revealed your guests are not aware of this. You are currently designing a new shark exhibit to replace your smaller and older one that was once considered the best of the best. How do you communicate your innovative animal care at the core of your mission?

High Budget:

  • Shark Lab
  • Behind the Scenes views and tours
  • Nursery and hands-on area
  • Exhibit located in high public view

Low Budget:

  • Utilize local CVB to generate media support
  • Utilize social media to tell stories about poster child shark
  • Partner with local news for interviews, regular media segments

Question Two:

You are a small zoo with steady, flat attendance in a medium-sized city (under 1,000,000 residents). Membership accounts for half of your attendance. Market research reveals that people in your community know of you, but believe the experience is meant for small children only and think of you as essentially a petting zoo. You have recently gained AZA accreditation, and all of your staff are highly skilled. Your collection includes many native species, but you are most proud of your successes in breeding cheetah and whooping crane. How do you communicate to your visitors the high level of care involved in your successes?

High Budget:

  • Hire more staff to be interpreters on-site
  • Engage in an interactive interpretive campaign that highlights the cheetah or whooping crane
  • Adult oriented night event that celebrates cheetahs or whooping cranes and the keeper staff related to those animals

Low Budget:

  • Citizen science program tracking whooping cranes in nature

Check back for more information on this session including write-ups of the individual presentations!

 

Advanced Evolution of Chinese Zoos

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speaking at CAZG 2017

speaking at CAZG 2017

I’m writing this piece in the fifth hour of the fourteen hour flight to the U.S. from Beijing. I’ve already watched two movies, had a couple glasses of wine, and did some work. I’m reflecting on my whirlwind trip in Ordos, Inner Mongolia for the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens’ (CAZG) 2nd annual conference, where although I was only there for 24 hours, I presented twice for a total of 5 hours. While these stats are quite impressive, the most impressive thing about this trip was the evolution that I am seeing in Chinese zoos and aquariums.

I’ve been coming to China for 8 years, for projects and for exploration of the potential market for zoo designers here. Although PGAV has been fairly consistently engaged in project work in this massive country over the last decade, most of that has been related to theme parks. The sudden and intense growth of the middle class has created a thirst for leisure activities, and while museums, water parks, historic cities, natural areas, and theme parks have been highly targeted for updates and new projects, the desire for modern, innovative zoos has lagged behind. In my opinion, this is directly related to the state of Chinese society’s relationship to animals and nature: the persistent desire for tiger and rhino parts for traditional medicines; exploitation of baby animals, especially tiger cubs, for photos at zoos; the market for ivory as status symbols; the levels of pollution in the water and air.

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But recently, the Chinese government has dedicated itself to reversing these trends: last year’s historic ivory ban, the continued dedication to the Paris climate accord, and the highly visible campaigns to educate Chinese citizens against the use of animal parts in medicine (as partnerships with organizations like WWF). I’ve even seen a difference over the years in small things that we take for granted in the U.S.: recycling in airports; signs asking people not to waste paper to save the trees; marketing campaigns for cities like Ordos that highlight how green the city is; encouraging the use of reusable water bottles with clean water stations at airports.

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Even though I was only able to spend a day with the Chinese zoo association, I was elated to see the level of advancement in only the two to three years that I’ve been working with them. As I spoke to the crowd about creating spaces that respond to the nature of animals, not to coerce them, to allow them to make decisions on their own even if that decision means your visitors don’t get to see them easily or on each and every visit, I saw heads nodding. A delegate coming to my aid when another challenged my assertion that extra spaces like flexible yards and enrichment rooms are worth the effort and cost. The zoo that proudly shared their designs with me for three new projects--the incredible difference between the designs that had been completed only two years ago, and the ones completed within the month. The level of investment in aspects dedicated exclusively to welfare. The new center for conservation and education.

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The CAZG itself is advancing. The conference attendance nearly doubled in one year—only its second year. The Association has created a department dedicated exclusively to design, hiring two full-time designers to aid government-run zoos in improvements. They spent over five years creating a set of design regulations, released this year, that blow our APHIS regs out of the water.They are hungry for knowledge, and thirsty for implementation.

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All of this means that the evolution of Chinese zoos will continue to advance at a break-neck speed. And that’s a wonderful thing. The typical city zoos that are pervasive throughout the country are as deplorable as you can imagine. Undersized and rusted cages. Limited education focus, if any at all. Lack of enrichment or even natural substrates. Private facilities have and will continue to be at the forefront of innovation due to bigger budgets, but there are a few shining examples of upcoming change at public institutions such as Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo and Beijing Zoo.As long as the government continues to infuse capital into these organizations—and hopefully continue to increase that level, Chinese zoos will soon be as modern as those in the West. And, perhaps even more importantly (and as has been true throughout history), the improvements in zoos will be a reflection of the changing relationship of the Chinese people with the natural world.

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Zoo Review: Wroclaw and Gdansk Zoos

Last month, I was able to spend a week in Europe focusing on zoo design. I attended a zoo design conference with many of the world’s leading designers and representatives from some of the most influential zoos from around the world. It was fascinating to see how differently everyone’s perspectives were, where their priorities lay, and what kind of risks they were willing to take.  For more on the conference itself, keep any eye out for my upcoming Blooloop post summarizing my key conference take-aways. 20170404_153329

After the conference, my colleague from PGAV and I were able to visit a handful of zoos, presenting a range of experiential designs and husbandry styles. As a strategist, I visit zoos with an eye to understanding their particular brand and differentiators, instead of focusing so much on details. In my experience, every zoo has good habitats and those that need attention. It is the constant challenge for any zoo—understanding where and when to spend their limited capital budget.

In this post, I will present to you the two zoos we visited in Poland.

Zoo Wroclaw (pronounced something like “Vrot-zwoff,” although I still just mumble my way through it!) is considered to be the best zoo in Poland. It’s an historic zoo with historic structures in a fairly urban setting, but has nice site characteristics, such as naturally forested areas.

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Overall, this zoo is fairly representative of an average zoo found throughout Europe. It has its charms and its challenges with the reuse of historic elements, like the original zoo restaurant (turned into a reptile house) and the zoo’s first structure, a castle-like brick enclave that originally housed bears (turned into unconventional bird enclosures).

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The layout is confusing and a reflection of its long history, and the intentionality of food service and retail could be improved.

The biggest lesson of this zoo is, however, the fact that many European zoos have not yet moved beyond their fascination with big A architecture—architecture for architecture’s sake, rather than serving a purpose for storytelling or supporting animal welfare.

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The Afrykarium, opened in 2015 and designed by local architect arc2, is a massive indoor Africa aquarium experience located at the heart of the zoo. Its expansive, monolithic black surface can be seen from most places in the zoo—and it’s not a good thing. It is not human scale; it does not feel inviting; it does not give a clue to what is held inside; it is in complete contradiction to the character of the zoo.

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Once inside, it is clearly apparent that the architects had never created an animal habitat before. Although the habitats are quite spacious and in some instances, quite complex, the ability to recreate a natural habitat indoors is an art that takes many years of practice. This was very much an amateur project, and at $60 million, an unfortunate first attempt for the Zoo.

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Gdansk Zoo, located in a city park just off the coast, is a humble zoo that truly benefits from its natural surroundings. The habitats are (mostly) large and naturalistic, many filled with trees and vegetation.

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More than just the aesthetic benefits, the Zoo utilizes the site, located at the base of a low mountain range, to tap into a natural supply of fresh water for the habitats. Although none of the exhibits contain underwater viewing, the water is regularly tested to meet quality standards, and is filtered naturally through a series of enhanced wetlands before moving into the city’s sewer system.

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The habitat barriers throughout exemplify the willingness to take risks that is characteristic of European zoos. Many exhibits here appear to have only hot wire as a barrier, and those with actual barriers, tend to be lower or less robust than what we would do here in the US. There are even places where hot wire is located to impede GUESTS rather than to stop ANIMALS. For example, the tiger caging is surrounded by hot wire on the guest side, with a hand rail along the guest path. A sign warns guests to not touch the hot wire, and also to not get close to the tiger enclosure.

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However, this zoo has a comfortable, park-like feel that welcomes guests to take their time and stroll. This is a very traditional approach to zoo design which generally is less appealing to me, but given the natural beauty of the site, the use of natural materials and vegetation within habitats, and the size of most of the enclosures, this zoo has a certain familiar, comfortable charm.

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Zoos in a Post-Truth World

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We all know about 'fake news' and we should all be aware of the growing distrust of anything big: big media, big government, big business. How does this skepticism affect the authority of zoos and aquariums as knowledgeable and reliable sources of information? How do we counter the growing culture of concern about zoo and aquarium animal care? How do we prove the validity of these institutions to exist at all when, it seems, logic and reason has all but left the building? I explore some simple ways to build and retain trust with our market and maybe even gain broader audiences in my latest Blooloop.com blog post. Read it here.

Chasing Big Cats: Snow Leopards and Perseverance

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I’ve always been nervous about meeting new people. Socializing is not my natural state. I hated Santa--coming into our grandparents’ house, demanding me to sit on his lap. I’d run and hide under the dining room table when I heard that jolly ho-ho-ho. My stomach does flops thinking, not about the presentation to 300 people, but of the awkward mingling with conference attendees and fellow speakers before and after. I avoid parties where I don’t know at least three people closely (I gladly host them, happy in the knowledge I can always escape into hosting duties such as serving food or MCing a game). Spending three weeks on a frigid Indian mountainside in December with a handful of strangers who mostly speak languages other than my own was quite possibly the scariest thing I’ve ever attempted.

This post is about leaving your comfort zone. A critical element of personal development—and more importantly, of becoming the best designer you can possibly be.

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That morning arriving to Leh, after thirty hours of travel and four flights, I was not ready to sit and drink tea with five strangers—in a country I’ve never been. We made small talk about how the flights were and where we are from. We weren’t sure what kind of tea to drink. What is Masala? Is it with goat’s milk like my friend warned me of? How much caffeine does it have? Do I need sugar??? I didn’t know who actually spoke English and therefore could handle me asking them a question, and who would look at me panicked not understanding what the tall blonde American lady is demanding! I was tired, cranky, but also excited to finally be here. To finally be on the hunt for the elusive snow leopard.

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Several days later, after “adjusting” to the elevation of Leh (around 11,000’) and after spending a day together birding around the Himalayan foothills surrounding the town, we loaded up the SUV with our gear to hit the mountains. We headed to our camp in Hozing Valley. Situated among mountain ridges between 12,000 and 13,000’, our base camp consisted of three small sleeping tents (one for each of us), and two larger mess-style canvas tents—one serving as kitchen, one as the dining room. The dining tent had a propane heater; the kitchen had a cook and a cook’s assistant. We had a simple pit-toilet outhouse—a hole in the floor. We had no running water, no heat in our sleeping tents. It was December, and it was cold. Very cold. The coldest night was about -35 F.

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The days were filled with hiking nearly vertical slopes among boulders and on gravelly sheep-made paths, to sit in the sun on ridges overlooking the valley. We’d sit for hours, scanning the rocky cliffs with binoculars and spotting scopes. We’d layer up for the frigid morning walks starting at sun up—before the sun passed over the ridges, when accidental water spills turned instantly into icicles. Some mornings--the coldest mornings, I’d be wrapped up so thick, my shadow looked like an astronaut: two wool base layers, two pairs of snow pants on my legs; a wicking shirt, two wool base layers, a fleece vest, a fleece jacket, a down jacket, and a ski jacket on top; a scarf; two hats (one a beanie, and one a thick, (faux) fur-lined Nordic thing); three pairs of socks; a pair of wool gloves beneath a thick set of mittens. At 10:30am, the sun came up over the ridge--its warmth allowed us to remove layers, and caused our feet to sweat as we trekked up several hundred feet of steep slope in astronaut gear. Then, when the sun found its way behind the ridges again at 3:30pm, our toes began to numb as our sweat-soaked socks and boots literally froze.

It was fun. I definitely lost 5 pounds.

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But the reward was delivered on the third day: a snow leopard! The build-up to the sighting was screenplay perfection. Our trackers spotted a blue sheep (the snow leopard’s favorite prey), dead on the ridge above our camp. They inspected the frozen carcass and found no obvious signs of trauma, just a dribble of blood at the corner of his mouth. Certainly within the realm of possibility of a snow leopard kill. Later, a local reported snow leopard tracks on the road leading to our camp. Trackers dispersed across the valley, scanning the rocky ledges and cliffs with spotting scopes. We sat quietly scanning, until one of the trackers came running down a steep hillside, and delivered the news: a snow leopard.

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His (we assumed he was a male, although no one could confirm) kill was located just 150 yards from our camp—a very, very lucky chance occurrence. We watched him for four days, as he stayed to feed on the frozen carcass, fully within view. During that time, we watched patiently as he slept in the sun. And slept in the sun. And slept in the shade! And slept in the sun. Someone always had their eye on the lens, watching. And when he shifted position, we’d yell, “Head up!” and everyone ran to the scopes. He stretched like a housecat, and curled his long tail around him, using it as a pillow. We’d squeal and coo, like children. We’d celebrate every evening with a toast of cheap brandy, before heading to bed at 8pm. We became compatriots in battle, bound by one, big, fluffy kitty cat.

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The trip was 12 days in the Himalayas, split between two locales. We stayed at our tented camp for eight, adjusting the itinerary due to seeing the leopard. We also stayed at a homestay for the balance, where the accommodations were slightly more luxurious, but still with limited heat, and no indoor plumbing. At the end of the trip, we said good-bye to the local guides and staff (five of them), and the couple from Spain (who were the only paying tourists other than me) departed. My tour guide, Marta, and I headed onto Talla and Bandhavgarh to search for tigers. The accommodations there were absolutely luxurious with toilets and showers, a real bed, and a space heater. And the climate was balmy at 55-65 F. We had an amazing day and a half exploring Bandhavgarh Tiger Preserve, where 65 tigers reside in 172 square miles. Chances of seeing tigers is slightly better than seeing snow leopards in Leh, yet we saw only one, and only for five minutes.

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Even so, my trip was blessed with wildlife. Everyone we talked to spoke of how lucky we were. Most people see a snow leopard on our itinerary, but they are usually much, much further away, and for only a few minutes. We saw two (the second was just a brief interlude—a more typical tourist experience), and we saw a tiger.

I like to think this luck was a reward for my bravery. For not cancelling the trip when I couldn’t find a travel partner. For not chickening out--knowing that I get cold very easily and don’t like curry (especially now!). And it reminds me that good things generally come from sticking your neck out.

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For many years, my annual reviews at PGAV consistently pointed to one major downfall of my performance: not being assertive enough. I realized in India—as I pondered if I really knew how to identify frostbite—that I had become quite assertive. I ‘stopped asking for permission, and started asking for forgiveness.’ And many times I failed, but many more times, I didn’t. It was more than not failing. It was succeeding. Taking chances and not waiting for the “perfect time” has changed my trajectory in my professional life. I always think about design from the options that we haven’t yet tried. I explore the crazy ideas that seem, on first glance, unrealistic. I don’t back away just because there is a potential negative—because there might also be a bigger positive you don’t yet see. However, it doesn’t mean we waste time going in never-ending circles. I’ve become strong enough and brave enough to make decisions based on logic, reasoning, and a little gut—and run with them.

And you should too. Step out into the cold, or into a room full of strangers, every once in a while. Speak up. Take action. Take a chance… and maybe you, too, will be blessed with big cats.

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Making Responsible Tacos: Conservation Brand Perception at Zoos & Aquariums

From Freesamples.us

From Freesamples.us

Adapted from 2015 AZA National Conference presentation "Brand and Experience: Communicating Conservation to Millennials and Gen Z"Zoos and aquariums are evolving.  Conservation, once a secondary or tertiary goal of these institutions, has become a primary goal in recent decades—and ultimately, should become the singular, highest priority.  Most American zoos and aquariums have been developing, leading, and supporting conservation efforts on their own properties and in situ to varying degrees for many years.  However, with the creation and implementation of the AZA’s SAFE program, these institutions are making a concerted effort to unite as one powerful force for conservation.  Prioritizing conservation above other zoological needs is a challenge, but perhaps more daunting is spreading awareness of this amazing work to the general public--changing the perception of zoos and aquariums from being “a place for a fun, family day out” to being “conservation organizations that also offer a fun experience.”

This challenge comes down to brand.

From pammarketingnut.com

From pammarketingnut.com

Brand is so much more than a logo.  It is the perception that lives in your customer’s mind.  It is the accumulation of the marketing messages you put out PLUS the experiences your customers have related to your organization.  And these experiences are not limited to what they see or feel while on-site; it is also what they hear from their friends and family, what they read online, what they see on social media.  The experience is the wildcard—the intangible that affects brand perception; the piece of the brand puzzle that we don’t truly own.  But, we can influence experience by infusing brand into every aspect of the on-site experience.  Because it is more difficult to control and more often overlooked by institutions, experience is the most important aspect of brand to address today at zoos and aquariums.

taco-bell-knows-their-target-market

taco-bell-knows-their-target-market

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at a simple example of experience influencing brand: Taco Bell vs. Chipotle. Both restaurants offer similar products: fast Mexican.  But we all clearly understand that there is a difference between the two.  This comes down to how each differentiate based on a clear definition of and dedication to brand.

From AP Images

From AP Images

Taco Bell is a value brand, catering mostly to a young market (Generation Z & young Millennials) through efficiency, and vibrant, bold marketing.

chipotle (1)

chipotle (1)

from-miburritosuburrito_wordpress_com.jpg

Chipotle, on the other hand, differentiates based on quality—both in food and in guest experience.  Chipotle espouses social and environmental responsibility through fresh, locally sourced ingredients and face-to-face interactions.  Gone are drive-thrus and ordering from a disembodied voice in a nondescript box.  Chipotle requires you to park your car, walk into the store, stand in line with other customers, order from an actual person, and has built its menu on the idea of customization.  You get exactly what you want, from a real person, giving you real food that you can smell and see being cooked. And it’s done fast. 

Chipotle knew that if they wanted to differentiate their brand from Taco Bell, they had to change everything—including the experience. They had to change the paradigm of tacos.

Today, Chipotle and Taco Bell are so different that Taco Bell doesn’t truly compete with Chipotle—despite having simila

r products.  Taco Bell competes against similar experiences. They compete against the McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Jack-in-the-Boxes of the world.

But how does this relate to zoos and aquariums?

From Conservationalliance.com

From Conservationalliance.com

Let’s start with brand perception.  As a whole, what do people think of zoos and aquariums today?  Are they thought of in the same way as more traditional conservation organizations like World Wildlife Fund or Sierra Club? Perhaps more importantly, should they be striving for that association?  Or, should they be differentiating themselves into a new brand that reflects who they are in a more meaningful way? They are different to begin with.  They have animals that people can connect with in a deeply personal way.  They have visitor experiences.  They have tacos.

The question is: what kind of taco do you want to be?  The Fun Taco? Or the Responsible Taco?

from zoomwear_spreadshirt_com

from zoomwear_spreadshirt_com

Today, zoos and aquariums are, by and large, Fun Tacos.  They provide good family experiences.  Wholesome days out.  But, as Responsible Tacos, they’ll do that and more.  They’ll provide real conservation impact through in situ programs AND opportunities for guests to get involved and get educated.  They’ll make conservation education a key goal for ALL guests, not just for those who show extra interest.

In order to become Responsible Tacos (and be recognized as such), zoos and aquariums must change the paradigm of experience.  You must realize that every moment your guest spends on-site is an opportunity to convey brand, tell stories, and educate. That every element of the physical incarnation of your organization reflects your brand’s perception. Because brand and brand perception is not JUST about your marketing message, but also inherently about experience.

WCS: A Brand Experience

Beautifully themed Africa zone in Bronx Zoo About 20 years ago, the zoological society that oversaw the system of zoological facilities in and around the New York metropolitan area underwent a brand facelift.  They became the Wildlife Conservation Society—a deep integration of the five metro facilities with the conservation organization that had existed since the late 19th century.  And, as I’m sure they would argue, it was much deeper than simply brand: it was a laser sharp focus on mission.  Specifically, the mission of conservation.

The discussion of zoos as conservation organizations is admittedly a quagmire: zoos and aquariums are no doubt contributing to the conservation of species.  The degree to which they are contributing depends on the individual institution, and the public perception of them as conservation institutions is probably as convoluted.  But this post is not about zoos as conservation organizations.  This is about conveying that message to your public.  This post really is essentially about brand.

The iconic theater where gorillas are dramatically revealed, post-movie, at Congo in the Bronx Zoo.

The reveal.

Perfect immersion in 'natural' Congo landscape at Bronx Zoo

Last year, I had the pleasure of spending a late summer weekend with a colleague exploring three of the WCS facilities: Central Park Zoo, Bronx Zoo, and New York Aquarium.  Each are as unique from each other as snowflakes: Central Park Zoo is a delightful historic gem tucked into a city park where wealthy urbanites can escape their apartments for an hour with their children.  The Bronx Zoo is a massive, day-long excursion winding through mature forest—as much a nature experience as a zoo.  The New York Aquarium, still recovering from storm Sandy, is a small to medium sized aquarium on par with any found in a medium-sized city—think Landry’s, SEA LIFE, Ripley’s.

However, each clearly conveyed the WCS message: We are conservation.

Non-animal theater show with puppets at Bronx Zoo

The sea lion show at the Aquarium. The Madagascar (and of course the Congo) exhibit at Bronx.  The Rainforest exhibit at Central Park.  Each clearly stated and restated the conservation issue, the solution, and how WCS is involved.  This is done through graphics, video, docents, and message-driven immersive storyline.  The exhibits are beautiful.  Each thoughtful, innovative, and clearly immersive.  Each exhibit created with upmost care by a talented team of designers who obviously has the formula down to a science.  These places are conservation.  You cannot miss it.

Sea lion show at still recovering New York Aquarium

Amazing snow leopard (and exhibit) at Central Park Zoo

This prototype of zoo as conservation organization is a clear success story and model for other zoos as we continue to showcase the amazing work zoos and aquariums do every day—and too often behind the scenes.  As we continue to evolve this model, a particular emphasis should be focused on further blending conservation education and fun.  While WCS is successfully integrating conservation into the experience, it does, at times, feel a bit heavy-handed—overwhelming guests with bad news and bleak outlooks for the future.  People come to our institutions for wholesome family fun, and the integral blend of pure joy, amazement, and conservation education will be the foundation of successful zoos and aquariums of the future.

Spent some time with this guy at Bronx Zoo

Then saw this horrifying display next to his window illustrating the illegal bird smuggling trade.

Enjoyed watching the tigers in their strikingly convincing naturalistic exhibit at Bronx Zoo.

Explored this fun display that just screamed to be interacted with.

Wha-wha-what???

Sweet little tank with a nice balance of conservation message and animal exhibit at New York Aquarium.

Zoo Shows: Conveying a Conservation Message to the Masses

by Jon Coe Greetings zoo friends and thoughtful critics!

If you have fifteen minutes have a look at the video below.  This is the complete elephant show from Bali Safari & Marine Park, and my long time friends and client, Taman Safari Indonesia. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cNml7-KUTQ] I designed the elephant show venue, including the wrap around water feature with underwater elephant viewing. But the important thing is how this show has evolved from a somewhat circus-like show demonstrating human control over elephants to a conservation melodrama where elephants are characters in the play, often performing well out of sight of trainers.

The drama starts from the expected view of forest cutters and loggers as “bad guys” (dressed in black as in traditional Asian drama) harassing, shooting, “wounding” and  driving off elephant “victims”. But in the next scene the elephants become “bad guys” destroying village crops and endangering local people. Finally elephants, under proper Forestry Department management, become heroes and win local support.

To me these abrupt and startling changes of perspective are effectively used to suggest the real complexity of wildlife conservation. The show mentions Taman Safari’s long-term support of the Way Kambas National Park elephant sanctuary they developed in Sumatra with the Forestry Department. But it is careful not to propose unrealistic “quick fixes” or blame either villagers or elephants. It presents, albeit in cartoon style, the realistic certainty that hard choices and compromises are required to create sustaining populations of farmers and elephants. The final message is something like “We don’t know the answer, but we know we will find the answer by working together”. Who can argue with that?

Elephant-show taman safari

On a practical level, I’m not a supporter of full contact elephant management or coercive training methods. But in this case, however training is done (and I don’t know how it was done) a number of elephants individually and collectively carry out long sequences of learned behaviours far from trainers. And while some appear to be “going through the motions”, others are clearly having fun. Most trainers would not encourage training elephants to chase people, even on stage. But the young elephants do seem to enjoy this part...wonder why!

From a behavioural enrichment perspective, the elephants have a wide range of physical activities including short bursts of running and swimming in a highly varied pace, usually with conspecifics. While the routine isn’t varied, neither is the exercise routine of most human athletes and performers, who nevertheless seem to find them enriching.

Most guests wouldn’t recognize the high levels of training skill and innovation required to produce such a show. They, especially high numbers of children, simply want to be entertained in enjoyable and understandable ways. In my experience such shows are the best way to connect with large audiences in mass tourism settings, where individualistic immersion on simulations of isolated jungle trails fail. In my opinion, major zoos can and should have both to reach their highly varied audiences most effectively and create that moment of “positive arousal”, as Terry Maple refers to it--that bonding moment of empathy upon which all effective education is based.

Jon Coe is a world-renowned zoo designer with over one hundred and sixty planning and design projects for over eighty-two zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, theme parks and national parks in thirteen nations.  The goal of his work is to collaborate in the creation of enriching and sustainable environments for people, plants and animals.

Five Stars: The Best of Yelp's Zoo Reviews

bronx1.jpg

Reputation is everything. We’ve known this since middle school. That’s why it’s important to carefully monitor your public perception, especially if you are an institution supported primarily through admissions and tax support.  With the instant feedback available 24-7 on internet review websites, there is simply no excuse for any zoo or aquarium to not be aware of public sentiment. Interested in what the general populace was thinking and inspired by my favorite podcast, How Did This Get Made?’s “Second Opinion” segment, I wandered the lonely streets of Yelp.com to find the best 5 Star Reviews of “top 5” Zoos around the country.  What I uncovered was by and large disappointing: well-conceived, coherent, thoughtful reviews of zoos that are deeply cherished by unwavering, supporting communities.

But then there were these.

San Diego Zoo

  1. Numismatics rejoice!San Diego
  2. Sybil likes the camels. San Diego2
  3. Sexy, sexy pigs and delicious signs San Diego3

St. Louis Zoo

  1. Cheap food brought to you by…. stl
  2. Meh. *Shrugs* Five Stars. stl2
  3. The first cut is the deepest. We’ve all been there. stl3
  4. Direct from the conversion van parked in the McDonald’s parking lot.  (Free Wi-Fi.)  stl4

Henry Doorly Zoo

  1. We all know zoos are for the 1%. omaha1
  2. Who says literature is dead? omaha2
  3. Did you say DEDICATED GIFT SHOP?!?!?!? omaha3

Columbus Zoo

  1. We’ve discussed this many times in new exhibit meetings. Columbus3
  2. Just don’t “make” them or have them at the zoo, please.  Unless you’re part of #1.Columbus4

Bronx Zoo

  1. Oh thank god.  (Read til the end) bronx1
  2. Can’t argue with that. bronx2
  3. From the owner of Comfortable Binoculars & Just-A-Little-Bit-Better-Than-Terrible Box Lunches located conveniently on Bronx Park South & Southern Boulevard, The Bronx. bronx3
  4. Wait…what? bronx4

 

That Cuss the Kangaroo: The Ultimate Zoo Soundtrack

by Ben Cober wearing-headphonesRecently I really enjoyed Bryan Wawzenek’s Theme Park Insider post about the top ten songs about theme parks. I started to plunge into the depths of the internet to seek out the best jams about our beloved zoos, and was shocked to find out that there currently exists no central repository for tunes on this great topic!

Therefore, as we celebrate the opening of Heart of Africa at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the beginning of zoo season, I present the Top 10 Songs about Zoos. These have been pulled from some of the darkest corners of discussion forums and web obscurity, so most might not bring on the waves of nostalgia that Freddy Cannon’s Palisades Park might, but are still a great journey through artists’ love of these great destinations.

At the Zoo Simon and Garfunkel Single (1967)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xKLBne1CoI

At the Zoo is a tribute by Paul Simon to his hometown of New York City. While it chronicles Simon’s trip to the Central Park Zoo, the song was later licensed in advertisements to the Bronx and San Francisco Zoos in the 1970s. The song hit #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released and its lyrics were adapted by Paul Simon in 1991 into a children’s book.

Going to the Zoo Peter, Paul, and Mary Peter, Paul, and Mommy (1969)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhxttDEv_I8

Going to the Zoo was released on side two (you read that right, remember when albums had SIDES?!) on Peter, Paul and Mommy by Warner Brothers. It was the group’s first children’s album, and took home a Grammy the following year for the Best Album for Children.

Zoo Song Alison Steadman and Roger Sloman Nuts in May (1967)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daEocG2dKCU

Nuts in May was a comedy movie for TV that was broadcast on the BBC in the late 1970s. The movie follows a nature-loving, self-righteous couple trying to enjoy their idyllic camping holiday. A nearby camper comes to check out their campsite, and is reluctantly treated to a song the couple “made up last year” about their trip to a zoo in London. The banjo and guitar skills are….questionable, and the lyrics are rather…uninspired, increasing the awkward tension between the poor guest and the couple.

Perfect Day Lou Reed Transformer (1972)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYEC4TZsy-Y

If you do a little research, this song gets deep. While not solely about the zoo, Perfect Day is thought to allude to Reed spending a day in Central Park with his first wife, Bettye Kronstad, that includes “feed animals in the zoo.” The song was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, and was featured in 1996’s Trainspotting; a 1997 BBC charity single which made it the UK’s number one single for three weeks; an AT&T commercial during the 2010 Olympics; and commercials for the PlayStation 4 and Downton Abbey. {Editor Note: This is my favorite. Stacey}

Funky Gibbon The Goodies Single (1975)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAmx_XdQky8

The Goodies were a comedy trio in the 1970s and 1980s that released a number of humorous tracks, Funky Gibbon among them. The song is an “instructional video” that teaches a dance the group made up about their favorite primate while they were at the zoo. It was their most successful single, and entered the UK singles chart at #37 in the spring of 1975. Slightly awkwardly, in the “About” section on the above clip, one of The Goodies shows' biggest claims to fame was that it was so funny that it actually killed a man from King’s Lynn by making him laugh himself to death. Ok…

Sonntags im Zoo (“Sundays at the Zoo,” translated from German) Die Toten Hosen (“The Dead Pants” – Google Translate, don’t ask) Unsterblich (“Immortal”) (1999)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8WHZjhWzLY

Despite the rough, punk-rock sound of this German thrash, the song is actually about a really nice day at the zoo and loving all the different animals. Don’t believe me? First verse: “Look at the giraffes, their necks are long. Look how they smile, they say thank you.” The chorus? “Here we are happy – you and I. Here we are free – on a Sunday at the zoo.”

The band is originally from Dusseldorf, their name colloquially meaning “The Dead Beats.”  Amazingly, this album is considered as one of their more “peaceful and quiet” ones, and the band apparently hated the album cover – a filtered photo of the Alps with pine trees and a sign reading “until we meet again!” Sounds pretty punk, anti-establishment to me!

5 Years’ Time Noah and the Whale Single (2007)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3PELIU1i4c

Once again, similar to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, 5 Years’ Time isn’t really directly about a zoo, but more about a couple imagining what their relationship will be like in five years – as they walk around the zoo. (That’s a nice sentiment, right? A couple’s dream spot in the future is a zoo!)

Sadly the song didn’t do too well when it was first released; but when the group re-released it in August of 2008, it became the group’s first top-ten hit, climbing to number 7 on the UK charts. The music video kind of feels like a Wes Anderson film, and was featured in a 2008 SunChips commercial.

The Carnival of the Animals Camille Saint-Saëns Composed 1886

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBGEf4urGNo

So this gets really interesting. Carnival is a musical suite comprised of fourteen movements by French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns, which follows a jaunt through the zoo and the different animals met along the way. It’s a rather comical piece, based on earlier works it references in more playful manners.

Saint-Saëns actually didn’t want Carnival published until after he had died, since he had written it “for fun” and was worried it would detract from his more serious, professional works. Little did he know that it would go on to become one of his best-known works. Covers of the various movements can be found in Fantasia 2000, Space Mountain, a trailer for The Godfather Part II, Babe, Charlotte’s Web, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Simpsons, The Ren and Stimpy Show, How I Met Your Mother, France at Epcot, the famous piano duel between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, during red carpet premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, and even Weird Al Yankovic did a cover called Carnival of the Animals, part II.

Daddy’s Taking Us to the Zoo Tomorrow Sung by Patsy Biscoe Sings Favorite Children’s Songs (1993)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViW47oCeOlg

If Funky Gibbon by The Goodies can make the list, so can DTUttZT by Patsy Biscoe. The song is a pretty straight-forward children’s tune about going to the zoo, although sadly hasn’t achieved the notoriety or reach that many of the other songs on the list have.

Biscoe herself though is pretty fascinating. She was born in Shimla, India, and moved to Australia with her family after the Partition of India (which is basically when the Punjab and Bengal provinces were divided along with a number of assets). She studied medicine at the University of Tasmania, singing and playing music at a local jazz club on Sunday nights, and was a finalist on the Starflight International talent quest on Australian Bandstand. She was really popular on the local Adelaide children’s shows Here’s Humphrey and Channel Niners; and has been Deputy Mayor of the Barossa Council local government and a naturopath (which is a form of alternative medicine that says special energy called “vital energy” or “vital force” guides bodily processes).

Walking in the Zoo Alfred Vance Live (1870)

The internet refuses to relinquish the actual music, but here are the lyrics.

Vance’s real name was Alfred Peek Stevens, being that “Alfred Vance” was a stage name he used throughout English music halls in the mid-1800s. Walking in the Zoo chronicles Vance’s day at Regents Park’s Zoological Gardens in London with a lady, ending with a horrific mauling by a cockatoo. The song has two fascinating precedents set within it. First, it’s the earliest known use in the UK of the term “O.K.” in the sense that we actually think about it today – something being all right or good. Second, it’s also one of the earliest uses of the term “zoo” instead of “zoological garden” – which actually really upset some stuffier “zoological garden” professionals of the era.

Sumatran Tiger (aka Endangered Song) Portugal the Man Smithosonian's National Zoo (2014)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoiIBYcRWKw

From National Zoo: "There are only 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild. That's why the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute partnered with indie rock band Portugal. The Man, bringing science and music together to distribute a previously unreleased song titled "Sumatran Tiger." The song was lathe-cut onto 400 custom poly-carbonate records designed to degrade after a certain amount of plays. There are no other copies of the song in existence. The records were sent to 400 participants asked to digitize and share the song through their social channels with the hashtag #EndangeredSong. The song will go extinct unless it's digitally reproduced. The Sumatran tiger will go extinct unless we take action. 

So what can you do? We need your help to share our message and raise awareness about the critically endangered Sumatran tiger and need for conservation efforts.

Scour the internet and search for the song using the #EndangeredSong on sites like SoundCloud, Radio Reddit, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. 

Retweet, repost and tell everyone you know. Visit www.endangeredsong.si.edu to learn more about the initiative and how to help perpetuate the song. 

Conservation is a multigenerational issue that needs a multigenerational solution. We must reach and inspire the next generation of conservationists."

All sorts of great tunes! Feel free to make that playlist and sing along on the commute to your zoo!

 

The Future of Zoos: Blurring The Boundaries

hybrid-zoo-image.jpg

By Eileen Hill The second group of PGAV's internal Specialty Development Team focused on Zoo and Aquarium Design has wrapped up their year of intense learning with their capstone project predicting the future of zoos and aquaria.  Below, Eileen explains her vision of the hybridization of zoos with other institutions as well as some other long-range thoughts. ( The text below is a transcript of her presentation to go along with the slideshow.)

[slideshare id=34442466&style=border: 1px solid #CCC; border-width: 1px 1px 0; margin-bottom: 5px; max-width: 100%;&sc=no]

(Slide 2) I’m going to start with a brief overview on the evolution of zoos, and how I think this evolution will play out in the future. I have focused primarily on what future zoos are going to look like, what some of the new types of zoos will be, and how these different types of zoos will blur the boundaries with other institutions.  That’s what I’m calling the hybrid zoo.  And I’m going to talk about several types of hybrid zoos. And I’ll end with some more far-out ideas for future zoos – looking much deeper into the future with some exciting (some might say crazy) future possibilities.

(Slide 3) So - When we think about what zoos will look like in the future, we should probably start w/ the question – will we evenhavezoos in the future? Some people believe that zoos will completely die out – that ethical concerns with keeping individual animals in captivity will completely trump all other concerns, including other moral quandaries related to protecting the animal species as a whole.

I disagree with these people.

In the 21st century, wild animal populations are going to be subjected to almost unimaginable challenges and crises brought about my massive human changes to the environments in which they live.  Zoos will continue to exist – not just as places of recreation or entertainment or even to draw attention to these issues – they will exist as a moral imperative and as a last refuge for animals against the growing storm.

(Slide 4) But we all know zoos are not just for animals.  They have always been and will always be about people too. In the 21st century – people are going to need zoos too.  Maybe not as much as the animal species who are dependent on them for their very survival, but we’re going to need zoos. I’ve been interested in this issue of nature-deficit disorder for along time – and if you haven’t read this book (pub. 2005), you should.  It’s about the issue of how our kids are losing access to nature in an increasingly urbanized, impoverished and technology-dependent world.  It’s about the need to get everyone, kids especially, back out into nature, into the woods, etc.  It’s based on the concept of biophilia. Zoos are uniquely positioned to fill this void and to give us more opportunities to interact with nature in a positive way. But enough of the sad stuff.  I’m not here today to talk about these issues.  What I want to talk about is what zoos are going to look like in the future.

(Slide 5) Today, we have a wealth of different wildlife institutions, devoted to the care and management of wild animal collections and populations. Today’s accredited zoos balance four (sometimes competing) goals of recreation, education, conservation, and research. These different institutions are distinguished from one another by their focus, their draw, their size, and their mission statement.  One might be a small owl sanctuary near your neighborhood – another is a sprawling wildlife reserve that spans three countries. So, as you can see, we already have a lot of different types of “zoos” – and I’m defining “zoo” rather broadly.

(Slide 6) So what is a zoo?

We all think we know what they are – they’re these urban parks (usually one per city), they’re flat and horizontal, they’re mostly outdoors, where we keep different animal collections on display.  On a nice day, when the weather is nice, you bring your kids in the stroller for the afternoon as a leisurely outing.  Sometimes you grab lunch there.  Usually it’s a quick drive – maybe a half hour or less.  And you’re always home by dinnertime.  You never go to other zoos besides your home city zoo, because why should you?  They all have the same animals, and they all look the same – right?  WRONG. What I hope to do today is to talk about some different types of zoos than what we think of as the “normal” zoo.  What are some of the future directions we might be heading in?

(Slide 7) But before I talk about future zoos, we have to take a quick trip to the past. After the first couple of slides, you’re probably thinking I’m very pessimistic about the future of our zoos.  But I’m not!  In fact, I’m extraordinarily optimistic about the future of zoos, and I’m really excited about where we’re going. Because I can see just how far we’ve come in the past hundred years –Today’s zoos evolved from royal collections, menageries and circuses. Animals were displayed by themselves in small bare cages, with no thought of animal welfare and no understanding of how to properly care for the strange and exotic animals in the collection. Recreation, status, and economics were the only concerns.  Education, conservation, and animal welfare were not concerns of these prototype zoos. So imagine just how far we’ve come in a little over a hundred years.  I’m sure the next hundred years of zoo evolution will be even more amazing.

(Slide 8)  Here’s some thinking on the evolution of zoos, from George Rabb – former head of the Brookfield Zoo. This diagram is from 1992, regarding the future of zoos.  It anticipated a much greater focus on conservation. In a lot of ways, we’re already here, at least in the U.S.  Just about every AZA accredited zoo has a primary focus on conservation, ecosystems, biodiversity, in-situ research, and more.

So where are we going from here?  What happens when we extend that line further into the future?Some caveats:

  • This implies a linear evolution of zoos.
  • That zoos all started from the same place, and future zoos are all headed in the same direction along a singular line of evolution.

(Slide 9) But we all know evolution is usually diagrammed as a tree – the evolutionary tree of life. (Plus I’m a landscape designer – I have to use the tree analogy).

I see future zoo types as branching out from what has come before, in more and more different types, in a constant pattern of growth and evolution and splitting apart and forming new types we haven’t even begun to imagine. Some of these branches will intermingle with other branches and other types of institutions, forming new hybrid institutional forms. In fact, I believe this hybrid zoo is going to be a major trend over the next 50 years.

(Slide 10) So what do I mean by a hybrid zoo? We tend to think of types and categories of wildlife institutions as separate boxes, with no overlap. A wildlife rehabilitation center is completely distinct from an animal theme park, and so on. But the reality is that the distinctions between them are not so clear, and they will become more alike as we move forward.  That’s what I’m calling the hybrid zoo.

(Slide 11) Here are some examples of these blurred boundaries.

Moving farther into 21st century zoo design, these boundaries will blur even further. The future zoo will occupy the middle ground – this gradient of green between a more naturalistic side and a more human-centered artificial side. These relationships do not have to be opposing dichotomies but rather rich interplays.

Microsoft PowerPoint - Future_of_Zoos_Hill_withNotes_compressed_

(Slide 12) Here’s an example.  Right now, in St. Louis, if you want to see art, you go to the art museum.  If you want to learn about history – the history museum.  You want science at the history museum?  Too bad! You want gardens at the zoo?  Well, you might be in luck.  After all, the full historical name is “zoological park.” And we’re starting to see science displays creep into zoos.  And more and more art is making its way to zoos as well.

So why do these have to be separate institutions?  Why can’t we have one hybrid institution, where you can go and see animals and art, and learn some science and history, and have fun all the while doing it?  What sort of zoo would that be?

(Slide 13) Well, it might look something like this:  our own City Museum. This is a highly interactive, multi-story, zoo-like museum that combines animals with art, history, science, and play. It’s a tactile and sensory rich experience, in which visitors can scramble through underground chambers like burrowing prairie dogs, or climb into a lofty nest high in the trees, or playfully splash in a river grotto. Where they can physically be the animals they have come to see – the modern explorer and adventurer in an urban wilderness of visual and tactile richness. Opportunities for a multifaceted cultural experience, with an emphasis on rotating exhibitions and freeform visitor activities. Opportunity to repurpose un-used urban buildings.

(Slide 14) Here’s another example:  COSI = Center of Science and Industry. Science museum on Scioto riverfront in downtown Columbus Ohio – opened here in 1999, institution since 1964. Really cool Ocean zone:  Poseidon themed interactive water play area, where we learn about things like laminar flow and water surface tensions, while having fun soaking our friends in the process. Why is there not an aquarium here?  This is the perfect place for it.

(Slide 15) Here is the next hybrid zoo type:  this is what we do here at PGAV so I’m not going to go into much detail. Suffice it to say – the hybrid zoo/theme park has been around for awhile, but the trend is becoming bigger and bigger as we move into the future, and in fact it is one of the primary branches for the future of zoo evolution. In the future, the primary focus of such theme parks will still be on recreation and entertainment, and they will continue to lead the way in creating great visitor experiences and great storytelling. But the theme parks will draw more and more from other zoos and wildlife institutions.  Conservation, education and even research will likely be a greater part of the institutions’ (and the public’s) focus in the future. There will be more sharing – and more blurring - between theme parks and other zoo institutions.

(Slide 16) Here’s another hybrid type.  This is a map of Columbus OH, showing the Zoo (the orange circle) as well as several parks and urban greenways. Urban zoos are going to become decentralized and modeled on the university concept with multiple regional campuses scattered throughout the city and region. Merge with other urban greenspaces:  metro parks, green trails, city parks and regional urban greenways. Oases throughout the city - a small aquarium here, a monkey island there. Multitude of smaller environments to maintain an educational and recreational access to the wild and to nature. The urban zoo will become more accessible, from both a physical and economic standpoint. More emphasis on local wildlife. Opportunities for nature recreation:  ziplining, kayaking, ropes courses, bicycling, etc.

(Slide 17) Here’s another, a relatively new kind of zoo that we’re going to see a lot more of in the future:  the safari park. A sprawling, regional destination – a hybrid between a standard zoo and a large wildlife preserve, usually housing African safari-type animals. Adventure park and destination, a full-day and possibly multi-day trip. 1,800 acre zoo visited by 2 million people annually, houses over 2,600 animals representing more than 300 species, as well as 3,500 plant species. Lots of different animal tour and recreational opportunities:  caravan safaris to giraffe and rhino exhibits, behind the scenes safaris, cheetah runs, ropes courses, zip lines.

(Slide 18)  Another example:  the Wilds. 9,154 acres (37.04 km²) of reclaimed coal mine land. The Wilds is the largest wildlife conservation center for endangered species in North America. Home to over 25 non-native and hundreds of native species, including Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Przewalski's Horses, and Hartmann's Mountain Zebras. Private, non-profit -  The International Center for the Preservation of Wild Animals, Inc. (ICPWA)– now working in partnership with the Columbus Zoo open between the months of May and October.

(Slide 19) Safari parks are destined to be huge regional draws with the potential for overnight/multi-day stays. Potential for ecotourism and “glamping” – in a yurt. San Diego Safari Park has the “Roar and Snore Safari” where you spend the night in an upscale tent (upper left). The Wilds has the yurts at Nomad Ridge (photos on right). Varying levels of luxury and ruggedness – I’d rather sleep in the fancy yurt in the center instead of that open air birds nest.

(Slide 20) When we think of national park wildlife, we think of the animals as being completely wild. These wildlife encounters, usually from our vehicles, are seen as a completely wild encounter with unadulterated nature.  We believe that this is the “real deal”. We never really think of animals in the national parks or wildlife reserves as anything but completely wild. But the truth is, there really is no such thing as true, untouched “wilderness” anymore.

(Slide 21) The animals in national parks are (for the most part) free-ranging, but they are still intensely and actively managed. This happens in not just the North American parks but also those in Africa. Examples:

  • At Rocky Mountain National Park, rangers manage elk herd sizes through a variety of birth control techniques
  • There are concerns at Kruger National Park in South Africa, where there are now arguably too many elephants that are destroying most of the vegetation.

National parks are really not so different from zoos

  • More and more control measures are being instituted (bear-proof food lockers, etc.)
  • Much of the park rangers’ time is spent monitoring the animals, relocating nuisance individuals when necessary, tracking the size and health of herd populations, eradicating invasive and exotic animal species, and more

Future for these parks - even more wildlife management to protect the animal populations; more borrowing and sharing of ideas with zoos and other wildlife institutions.

(Slide 22) Final hybrid type. For much of their history, many wildlife rehabilitation centers refused to accommodate visitors. These are places that nurse sick, injured or orphaned wildlife back to health, for release back into the wild. They have seen visitors as nuisances or distractions at best or, at worst, as people in direct opposition to their stated goals. Some have associated visitor accommodation with the “lesser” goals of recreation and entertainment. But that has been changing.  These places are realizing that their facilities are unique places for visitor education and awareness, and are really starting to attract visitors with interpretive experiences and elaborate visitor facilities. They will continue to merge with other types of zoos as we move forward.

(Slide 23)  Ok, that was a quick overview of several different types of hybrid zoos.  Now I’m moving on to other directions:  Looking further into the future, many of these trends are for zoos 50 to 100 years from now.

(Slide 24) First Trend:  the Bubble Ecology Zoo – a self-contained place that replicates full ecological systems and habitats, in order to best house animal species outside of their preferred/original climatic and bioregional zone. Inspired by the ideas of Buckminster Fuller. We are already starting to do this, but this is taking it one step further to create a fully-functioning self-contained ecosystem. Designed by an associate of Buckminster Fuller. Still world’s largest closed system. Now owned by the University of Arizona since 2011. 3.14-acre structure. Generally considered to be an unmitigated disaster (from the perspective of a social experiment), but is still inspiring future zoos.

  • Info from web: “Constructed between 1987 and 1991, it explored the web of interactions within life systems in a structure with five areas based on biomes, and an agricultural area and human living and working space to study the interactions between humans, farming and technology with the rest of nature. It also explored the use of closed biospheres in space colonization, and allowed the study and manipulation of a biosphere without harming Earth's.”

(Slide 25) Houses plants collected from all around the world. Opened in 2001. Info from Web:

  • The domes consist of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal, inflated, plastic cells supported by steel frames. The first dome emulates a tropical environment, and the second a Mediterranean environment.
  • The Tropical Biome, covers 3.9 acres and measures 180 ft high, 328 ft wide and 656 ft long. It is used for tropical plants, such as fruiting banana trees, coffee, rubber and giant bamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature and moisture level.
  • The Mediterranean Biome covers 1.6 acres and measures 115 ft high, 213 ft wide and 443 ft long. It houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines and various sculptures.
  • Meandering path with views of the two biomes, planted landscapes, including vegetable gardens, and sculptures that include a giant bee and towering robot created from old electrical appliances

(Slide 26) Info from Web:

  • "Desert Dome" is the world's largest indoor desert, as well as the largest glazed geodesic dome in the world.  Opened 2002. Beneath the Desert Dome is the Kingdoms of the Night,and both levels make up a combined total of 84,000 square feet.  The Desert Dome has geologic features from deserts around the world: Namib Desert of southern Africa; Red Center of Australia; and the Sonoran Desert of the southwest United States.
  • Lied Jungle is one of the world's largest indoor rainforests:  Visitors can walk along a dirt trail on the floor of the jungle as well as on a walkway around and above the animals.  Opened 1992. 123,000 square feet of floor space, of which 61,000 square feet is planted exhibit space; 35,000 square feet of display management area; and 11,000 square feet of education area

(Slide 27)  Designed unveiled in 2010, but plans shelved in 2011 due to loss of funding.  Also included plans for a hotel. Info from web:

  • 112 feet high and larger than the Tropical House at Eden. The project covers 172,000 square feet and will simulate the natural African rain forest habitats of the Congo. It includes an undulating dome which will be one of the largest ETFE clad free form roof structures in the world and contain a jungle canopy with an authentic climate.
  • The 'Heart of Africa' Biodome will be home to a band of gorillas, a large troop of chimpanzees, okapi (rare giraffe-like creatures), birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates.
  • An interactive water ride will provide extensive views of the animal enclosures.
  • Themed retail and dining facilities will also be incorporated.

(Slide 28) Architectural Design Competition for a Tropical Garden. Unbuilt, designed in 2011

(Slide 29) Designed in 2009. Four biozones:  Central Asian Steppe, Arctic Pole, Asian Temperate Forest, Central Asian Mountain. Info from web:

  • “The architects conceived an intelligent rehabilitation of the zoological island of Korkeassari from the circulation in the different biozones to the construction of a contemporary entrance edifice. Here the architecture disappears in favor of controlled geography.”

Described by architects:

  • “The zoological island of Korkeasaari will be cut off again. Its architectural interventions will be concentrated to make it wild and mysterious once more – a park / garden as a place of popular privilege, the nobility of the future city.
  • Architecture disappears in favour of controlled geography, like the resurgence of a neighboring landscape. The entrance grouping the set of utilities crucial to the running of the zoo becomes a focus of visual identity, somewhere between form and shapelessness, pierced with cavities.
  • Like layers of skin peeled back to receive an implant, there will be an above and a below that dialogue and interpenetrate one another. Areas of light, uncertainty, reflections and depths will be developed, offering the first emotions of a visit that will play on time and the seasons through four biozones :
    • Central Asian Steppe
    • Arctic Pole
    • Asian Temperate Forest
    • Central Asian Mountain”

(Slide 30) Multistory zoo. Why not go vertical?  Especially in increasingly urbanized and dense populated areas. Zoos don’t have to be horizontal.  Aquariums have been going vertical for decades.

Dutch Pavilion:  explored topics of ecology, congestion, population density, the relationship between natural and artificial

  • 6 levels:  dune landscape, greenhouse landscape, pot landscape (which has trees), rain landscape, and more
  • Info from web:
  • “The idea of the pavilion was characterized by the superimposition of six ways of being of the landscape.  From the ground floor, the "dune landscape" leading to "greenhouse landscape," space in which nature and, above all, agricultural production, showed strong union with life, even in the new high tech world.In the "pot landscape" big pots hosting the roots of trees located on the top floor, while throwing screens and digital images of light and color messages.
  • "Rain landscape was changing in the space devoted to water, which was turned into a screen and in support of audiovisual messages; large trunks of trees populated the" forest landscape" while building on top of the" polder landscape "hosted large wind blades and a large green area.”

(Slide 31) Star-shaped tower based on a nucleus of a tree trunk, designed to maximize space, views, and circulation. Sustainable strategies:  rainwater harvesting, solar power. Info from Web:

  • “The Vertical Zoo is a balanced and sustainable space where people and animals can coexist in harmony. Wrapped in lush vegetation, the star-shaped building makes use of green building strategies to reduce heat gain, encourage natural ventilation and soak up rainwater. Totally self-sufficient, the tower's aim is to be a sustainable refuge for all animal kingdom species.
  • Built from a six armed star-shaped level designed to maximize space, views and circulation. It is based on a nucleus or a tree trunk from which emerges six branches, each 20 sq meters in size which all serve different programmatic needs. These program blocks provide space for zoo activities, visitor needs, administration, circulation and ventilation, and spaces for sustainability. Modular by design, more star-shaped levels can be added on top as needed or as funding becomes available for new facilities.
  • Capable of providing its own water and energy through rainwater collection and solar power. Arrangement of the star-shaped levels encourages natural ventilation and improves views. Multiple towers can be built together to create a larger interconnected complex.
  • The Vertical Zoo is designed to be as much about the animals as it is about the people who visit and encourages meeting and cohabitation as a way to promote equanimity between the species.”

(Slide 32) A competition for the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve.  Info from web:

  • A towering habitat meant to resemble a natural cliff that would also provide nesting ground for migratory birds
  • Goal:  recreate a cliff habitat for the types of animals that would naturally be living in such an environment
  • Footpath winding around an inner core of animal enclosures, all within a net-like steel shell that lets in air and sunlight as well as a controlled amount of rainwater in certain areas. The nets and cables support vegetation that gives the tower a more natural feel, and select pockets serve as open-air nesting for the birds.
  • Visitors reach the tower in cable cars connected to the public transportation system, and can then take in an even more spectacular view on a high-level observation deck.

(Slide 33) Low-impact zoo:  a Zero Energy Zoological Island in South Korea. Sustainable strategies:  zero-carbon transport systems, renewable energy sources, rainwater collection sites, and all waste would be reused as either composted fertilizer or biofuel. Roughly dodecahedron-shaped habitat tower. Info from web:

  • “The zoo’s landscape of natural peaks and valleys is ideal for zoo development. The flat valleys could host animals, while more mountainous areas could be protected and treated as nature reserves. All transportation, energy sources and building systems would be housed in a so-called “infrastructural green belt” located at a height of 20 meters. Everything above and below would remain untouched.”

(Slide 34) A wildlife corridor is an area of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities or structures (such as roads, development, or logging). Huge, regional scale – possibly spanning multiple countries. Allows an exchange of individuals between populations. This may potentially moderate some of the worst effects of habitat fragmentation,wherein urbanization can split up habitat areas, causing animals to lose both their natural habitat and the ability to move between regions to use all of the resources they need to survive. Habitat fragmentation due to human development is an ever-increasing threat to biodiversity, and habitat corridors are a possible mitigation. Here are some examples of wildlife bridges, which allow animals to cross human structures unimpeded. Especially useful for wide-ranging animals like wolves (Though, if I’m a wolf, I’m hanging out right by the wildlife bridge for prey).

(Slide 35) Here’s another example:  green roofs. Becoming increasingly common. Scattered throughout dense urban areas on multiple rooftops. These could become home to migrating bird species and other migrating animal populations.

(Slide 36) Virtual or digital zoo is a way to interact with animals remotely, using technology. We all remember the PandaCam Crisis of 2013, also known as the government shut-down, when the Smithsonian’s National Zoo live feed from the panda exhibit went dark. As new technologies emerge, there will be more and more opportunities to view and interact with animals all around the world. The world is shrinking. To be honest, I find this type of zoo much less compelling.  There is NO substitute for real, live, face-to-face interaction with real animals.

(Slide 37) In all likelihood we will have the technology to bring back extinct animal species in the next century. Advances in cloning technology and genome mapping. Likely species include:

  • Wooly mammoths, dodo birds, passenger pigeons, a relative of the zebra called the quagga, and the so-called "Tasmanian wolf," (which died out in the 1930s, according to Michael Noonan, a biologist at Canisius)
  • Not dinosaurs – we’re not making Jurassic Park

There are obvious, enormous ethical issues with this, but I’m not going to open that can of worms today.

(Slide 38) What I will say is this: This is probably going to happen in the next centuryso we should probably be thinking about what that means.

  • What does this mean for future zoos?  Will these be the new pandas?  The superstar species that draws most of the visitors?
  • If offered a live mastodon, what zoo will turn them away?
  • How do we keep these species from becoming just a mere curiosity?
  • How will we know if their physical, environmental, social and intellectual needs are being met?
  • Shouldn’t the ultimate goal be reintroduction to the wild rather than keeping a captive population?

It’s certainly a complicated issue, but a very real possibility.

(Slide 39) We’ve been sending animals (specifically mammals)up into space since the late 1940s. Lots of primates through the 1950s and 1960s. Even today, experiments with fish, mice, and more on the International Space Station. Primarily for research purposes thus far. What happens when we start to colonize space?

(Slide 40) Eventually we’re going to start colonizing space – the moon, Mars, an asteroid, the moon Europa, or elsewhere in the solar system. When we think of space colonies, we tend to think they will look something like this: Barren, dull, lots of metal and hard surfaces; The only life forms are human.

(Slide 41) But I think future space colonies will eventually look something more like this:  with simulated natural habitats and lots of different life forms. Stanford Torus:  1975 proposed designfor a space habitat capable of housing 10,000 to 140,000 permanent residents. Info from web:

  • Ring-shaped rotating space station
  • Interior space of the torus itself is used as living space, and is large enough that a "natural" environment can be simulated; the torus appears similar to a long, narrow, straight glacial valley whose ends curve upward and eventually meet overhead to form a complete circle. The population density is similar to a dense suburb, with part of the ring dedicated to agriculture and part to housing

(Slide 42) Here are some other views. Whether we start colonizing the final frontier on giant rotating torus-shaped stations, or on terraformed colonies on the moon, Mars or Europa – we will bring our animal cousins with us.

(Slide 43) Conclusion:

  • While we don’t know all of the forms that zoos will take in the future
  • We do know that there will be lots of new types of zoos
  • We also know that the boundaries will blur between zoos and other institutions, creating fascinating new hybrid typologies
  • There are lots of exciting new frontiers to explore
  • As Zoo designers, we have the power to shape this new world and I’m really excited to keep moving forward

(Slides 44 & 45) Resources and Links

In Marius' Honor

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By Trisha Crowe A moment of silence for Marius the giraffe, and then…..What?

Boycott the Copenhagen Zoo?

Boycott ALL zoos?

I say let’s rally around something we can agree upon….that the mistreatment or exploitation of any species is not ok. The difficult thing is that how each person defines these terms is a highly personal decision. It is based on the innumerable messages we get as we grow up about what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair, and how we either feel or are taught about other living organisms.

As a self-professed animal lover I personally was stunned to see Marius’s story in the headlines. Regardless of where you stand on the spectrum of “animals are just like humans”, vs. “animals are here only to serve us”, I think we can agree that most of us do not want to see a healthy two year old giraffe killed and then publicly skinned and fed to lions. In our cultural views the Copenhagen Zoo’s handling of this issue has been an abomination, no doubt. But now what?

Based on reaction I have seen online, many people are ready to reject zoos altogether. I can understand this sentiment because there was a period in my life when I decided that I did not want to go to zoos anymore. Instead of feeling happy, uplifted or educated it seemed like I always left zoos feeling sad for the confined animals (from this point I will use “animals” loosely to represent all zoo and aquaria species).  I thought the enclosures were mostly too small and too sparse, there weren’t enough enrichment opportunities for animals to play or exhibit  natural curiosities, and on top of all of that some animals didn’t even get to leave the confines of their “holding areas” (I saw these as concrete cages) very often.

Flash forward; it took me almost 10 years to realize that the decision I had made to stay away from zoos did not do one bit of good for any animal anywhere. I realized that zoos are not going away. In the United States, zoos that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have higher attendance per year than all major sporting events combined.  And did I really want them to go away anyhow? No, what I wanted was for them to be better.  I decided that the right thing to do was not to ignore the problem, rather see what I could do to improve things. With this goal in mind I enrolled in a master’s program in landscape architecture. I did my thesis on zoo exhibit design with an eye on contributing to the design and construction of better enclosures and holding areas.

My revised attitude towards zoos has taken me a long time and has not always been easy; however since 2006 I have met with dozens of zoo and aquarium professionals who have given me a world of valuable time and a lot of insight. I have talked with keepers, horticulture staff, directors, COO’s, CFO’s, education staff, marketing staff, designers,   and development and membership staff.  While these people all have different educational backgrounds and varying views on animal “rights”, every single person I have met has had at least this in common – their love of wildlife and their desire to make a positive contribution to their organization and its occupants.

After having all of these conversations I realized that my past view of zoos was based on a very limited sample size and little real information. What challenges do zoos face? Why do they take the actions that they do? I really had no idea and unfortunately this made me mistakenly clump every negative act of every individual at every zoo into one category - bad.

What I have learned over the past ten years, however, is that zoo professionals are out there working hard to make positive changes. Within the past thirty years we have come a very long way. While in the 1970’s I had a lot of fun throwing marshmallows and peanuts to the elephants at my local zoo I am much happier to know that species diets have been well considered and are contributing to healthier animals. The 1980’s saw a widespread acceptance and execution of the use of more naturalistic enclosures. Enrichment opportunities – things like big blocks of ice with frozen treats inside or design elements which allow for an animal to exhibit their naturalistic behaviors – have grown into their own field of expertise. The psychological well-being of animals is now at the forefront of zoo keepers and administrator’s minds, so efforts have increased to address stress-based or “zootypic” behaviors such as animals pacing. But here’s the thing, change cannot happen overnight. And it cannot happen without passionate people letting their voices be heard.

I once felt helpless to do anything that would make any difference at all, but I eventually decided that my way to try and make a difference was to get my degree in landscape architecture and become a member of AZA. Now I am also trying to raise awareness that what zoos really need the most right now to continue their transformation into the kinds of institutions we want them to be is our support.

Regardless of your current impression of zoos they are a valuable resource and carry valuable messages to the public. They connect humans to wildlife in an up-close and personal way not otherwise possible. With increasingly dynamic education they foster participation in global environmental initiatives and help create a public concerned about the future of our planet, and wide-ranging conservation programs aim to preserve a vast variety of species in their natural areas. Zoos and aquariums are some of the only places left where a kid would rather look at what is in front of them than what is on their phone or computer screen.

So today I implore you, don’t dismiss all institutions. Become a member at an AZA-accredited zoo you have confidence in to show your support. Volunteer at your local zoo or aquarium. Write a letter when you are bothered by things you see. Get involved with a wildlife conservation initiative that you believe in. In the case of Marius the giraffe, write the Copenhagen Zoo an email voicing your concern.

Change cannot happen without us.

Trisha Crowe has been a team member in Pittsburgh, PA-area businesses focusing on design, planning and environmental issues for over 10 years. Trisha’s passion - and primary reason for completing her Master's of Landscape Architecture in 2010 - is zoo exhibit design.

The Whats, Whys and Hows of Guest Experience, Part 1

The following is an adaptation of a presentation I gave in September 2013 at the AZA National Conference as part of the session ‘Enrichment as Guest Experience.’ This is part one of two.

The guest experience is a critical component to any institution that aspires to educate the general public in a single visit.  Zoos and aquariums have a trick up their sleeve, however: the animals.  And as long as we optimize the connection between guests and the animals, the guest experience is elevated.  In order to ‘optimize connection,’ zoos and aquariums can and should use enrichment as a critical element of the guest experience. 

Zoos and aquariums are doing fantastic work across the country and around the world working on conservation, research and education programs.

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With all of this great work, sometimes a critical characteristic of the institutions is overlooked: the Guests.  Zoos and aquariums are places for leisure and recreation.

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They are places that people primarily visit for wholesome, family fun which means we have a captive audience, day in and day out, to which we can directly connect.  Because of that, we cannot overlook the fundamental aspect that keeps people coming back again and again…The Guest Experience.

Simply put, if guests don’t have a great time, they simply won’t come back.

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What goes hand in hand with having a great time? Creating memories.  We have to always remember that we are helping our guests make lifelong memories.

Indulge me here.  Let’s take a moment to explore memory making.  Positive or negative, memories capture a moment in time, and influence future decision making.  A memory is truly a living portrait of an experience--and an experience that makes the most powerful memory has some very specific attributes.

1. It’s sensorial

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There’s a touch, taste, smell, sound or sight associated with the experience.  Something that will bring you back to that moment in an instant.  For me, mothballs remind me of Spring Break at my grandma’s in Florida—doing homework at the kitchen table from the extra days off for the trip.  For some people, music is especially nostalgic…Weezer’s Undone (The Sweater Song) takes me back to dancing around my high school best friend’s living room.

2. It’s emotional

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Happiness, love, fear, embarrassment are captured fully in memories.  Our happiest moments are easily remembered, of course.  But, on the flipside, trauma also sticks with us.  One of my earliest memories is of Santa—and of me, at 3 or 4 years old, hiding under the dining room table at my grandparents’ house clutching the table leg for dear life, tears streaming down my face, shaking in fear of the gigantic, loud, creepy stranger with a weird laugh sitting in my Pappy’s chair and eating our cookies.  Not cool, Santa.  Not cool.

3. It’s new

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Our first time.  It sticks with us.  The experience of trying and failing, trying and overcoming.  The excitement of doing something for the very first time.  These are strong experiences that beget strong memories.  Even for seasoned professionals, that first snuggle with a snow leopard cub sticks with you.

Okay, so we get memory making in general, so next we'll talk about memory making—and thus experience--at zoos and aquariums specifically.  Check back soon for Part II.