Louisville Opens Phase 2 of Glacier Run

As part of the concept team at PGAV that developed Glacier Run with Louisville Zoo, I am excitedly awaiting the opening of Phase 3 of Glacier Run--the Polar Bear, Sea Lion, Sea Otter, and Stellar's Sea Eagle exhibits.  However, since phase 3 is still not under construction yet due to lack of funding (get on their webpage and donate people!), we'll have to enjoy the opening of a refurbished Siberian Tiger exhibit nearby the site. 

Water play

Phase 1 of the exhibit area, a themed water play area, was opened last summer, and has since been packed with visitors daily.  Phase 2, the tiger renovations, included updating the mid-century enclosure to be more visitor and keeper friendly.  The old exhibit was uninviting, having 15' tall concrete walls all along the public walkway.  The viewing area looked like a bunker.  Now, the visitor area has been softened with pergolas and plantings.  Training panels have been added so the public can get a first-hand view of the extensive behavioral training and enrichment the zoo conducts with its tigers. 

In fact, Louisville Zoo is on the forefront of animal training and has a tradition of building enrichment and training opportunities into exhibits as a major component (see the Islands exhibit).  The Zoo's philosophy is to turn the zoo "inside out" so all visitors can clearly see the extraordinary care given to the animals by the staff.

In Phase 3, you'll see much of the same.  In concept development, the staff's first concern was to make the environment as complex and enriching as possible with the small amount of space available to the exhibit.  This created not only a complex exhibit, but also a complex holding and enrichment facility with tunnels, stairs, a foraging room, and a maze of transfer chutes.  In the final design, most of these elements made it, enriching not only the animals' lives but also the enhancing the experience for the visitors. 

Old Polar Bear ExhibitThe new Glacier Run exhibit area will replace the current mid-century polar bear exhibit, and take over the adjacent hillside.  The old exhibit was an excellent example of modernist design infiltrating zoos.  The exhibit was more of a sculputural piece than a proper animal enclosure, and the animals were clearly affected.  Stereotypy was seen, and animals rarely used their pool.  The exhibit was entirely concrete with no natural substrates whatsoever.  The new exhibit will be greatly appreciated by the bears. 

Check out the Louisville Zoo's Capital Campaign page for extensive information on the upcoming exhibit, and ways to contribute.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine


Enrichment as Basis of Design?

For those of you new to zoo design, enrichment (or behavioral enrichment or environmental enrichment) is a means for zoos to invigorate the lives of the captive animals by providing activities or environmental changes that encourage the natural instincts and behaviors of the animals.  As designers, we need to recognize the need for enrichment in the daily lives of animals for several reasons:  active animals make exhibits more engaging; active animals equal happy animals in the eyes of our guests.  Sunbear with Halloween Enrichment

Moreover, as designers, we need to make the lives of keepers as easy as possible.  A cramped or impossible to work in space, makes their daily routines more difficult which means less time to work with the animals and provide for their mental stimulation needs. 

So, providing spaces that recognize the need for enrichment is one step...make spaces flexible and workable for the keepers.  Make lots of storage for things like buckets, boomer balls and other toys, cardboard, and anything else a keeper might want to incorporate into the animal's life.  I've found talking to keepers about their routines and enrichment / training activities both encourages exchange of ideas and information (that, frankly, most of us designers are quite ignorant of), and also works to break the barrier of mistrust between the two groups (which is another topic entirely). 

By NevaBut what about creating an entire exhibit based not on story, or visitor experience, or site constraints, but on animal enrichment?  I've only heard of one exhibit that did this...the lemurs at San Francisco Zoo.  (If there are others out there, please let me know.)  I've never actually seen this exhibit, but heard a presentation about a couple of years ago at the AZA National Conference.  Not only did they build the exhibit based solely on the animals' needs and need for enrichment, but they worked in the visitors' need for connection by allowing the visitors to control some of the enrichment activities.  I'm curious to see if this worked. 

Another possible example, which I am unsure if was based primarily on the idea of enrichment, or if the idea came afterward, is the Islands exhibit at Louisville Zoo.  This exhibit links several smaller exhibits so that the animals, both predator and prey, can be rotated between the exhibits as often as possible.  This allows the critters to get residual scents of each other, theoretically enriching their lives.  I know in certain instances this leads to more stress than good, but I also know this exhibit is still functioning in this manner. 

Can we design a fully successful exhibit, from the visitor's point of view, from the animal's point of view, from the keeper's point of view, starting from the enrichment goals?  I think yes.  We can always find a way to wrap the visitors into a story.  And, well, unfortunately, but accurately, the keepers' behind the scenes spaces can always be worked out after the rest of the front of house stuff is designed.  I'd like to see everyone on a design team on board for this sort of thinking and see where it leads us. 

In the meantime, encouraging zoo clients to, at the very least, include a statement of enrichment design and hopefully an enrichment goal outline in every master plan is a place to start.  Even if the concept phase of the exhibit design doesn't focus on enrichment, make sure that at some point in this phase, its brought up.  At the very least, ask what possible enrichment activities could be done with the species in question, and think about how the keepers can incorporate those activities even in the simplest manner throughout.  Make their lives easier, if you can, by providing attachments for toys, easy methods for hiding snacks and scents, and giving them access to the highest points in the exhibits. 

If you get lucky, you'll get a client that wants to really explore how to connect design and enrichment.  For the most part now, though, keepers will continue to fight their way through the daily challenge of enriching their animals' lives without the support of an exhibit truly designed for maximum enrichment opportunities.

And if you'd like to really impress your keepers, check out some of the enrichment websites listed in the Blogroll and come prepared to meetings with ideas!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine