new exhibit

Dakota Zoo's New Tiger Exhibit

Apparently, its Tiger Week here at!  To continue the trend, I'm bringing you the exclusive details on the Dakota Zoo's new Tiger exhibit.  This week, the Zoo, located in Bismarck, ND, opened Phase I of its new two-part big cat exhibit. Phase I is a super-sized tiger exhibit, currently housing three adolescent Siberian Tigers, and Phase II, slated to open September this year, will be the new home to two Snow Leopards.  Here is a local news reporter's tour through the exhibit. The Zoo successfully managed to stretch its limited budget of $1.2 million to the max, by primarily focusing on animal well-being and visitor proximity above theming and story-delivery. The guest features of the tiger habitat include pop-up viewing stations inside the exhibit, as well as nose-to-nose glass viewing from the perimeter.

The tigers are lavishly provided for, as well, with an enormous 45,000 sf of exhibit space. For comparison, the Bronx Zoo's large six tiger habitat, opened in 2003, is approximately 65,000 sf (that's 10,800 sf / tiger) while Dallas Zoo's six tiger habitat, opened in 1999, is a more typical 28,000 sf (4600 sf / tiger). The Dakota Zoo has planned for a maximum of four total tigers, which would mean each tiger could have a possible 11,250 sf territory to roam, when the facility is maxed out.

The exhibit also features pools for swimming and play, rocks for lounging and climbing, natural vegetation for shade, and grass underfoot.

The Dakota Zoo's back of house support area is also impressive, providing four somewhat standard-sized stalls of 120 sf each (10' x 12'), with an additional 1200 sf off-exhibit yard.

Terry Lincoln, Director of the Dakota Zoo, kindly took a few minutes to share some thoughts on the exhibit with me. Via e-mail, I asked him if the recent press coverage of the San Francisco Zoo's attack had affected any of the planning for this exhibit.

"We did review the San Francisco tiger incident and didn't end up changing our plans, although we were interested to learn that our den height of 12' was roughly the same height as their exhibit wall. Our den {ed. note: holding building which serves as one barrier of tiger enclosure} has 4.5' of mesh and solid invert above the 12' level to prohibit jumping or climbing {from within the exhibit}. We {also} made provisions to install a video DVR system to monitor and record the guardrail areas in the event that an incident were to occur."

He also mentioned the exhibit walls are 16.5' tall, and made from 3" mesh. The full height includes a four foot kickback at the top. Additionally, the tigers are discouraged from approaching the mesh walls with a single strand of hotwire at the two foot level. Click here to watch a video of Terry and the stars of the show being interviewed at the off-exhibit yard.

This exhibit took over eight years of planning and fundraising. The Zoo designed the exhibit in-house, hiring a local architect to draw it up for them.  It is clear by the amount of local press coverage of the exhibit that the city is very proud of the exhibit and the zoo. Congratulations to all involved in Phase I, and best of luck in Phase II.

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Erie Zoo's New Tiger Exhibit

Nikki Thinking About It The AP story about Erie Zoo's shy tiger is showing up in most of the nation's local papers and is plastered all over the internet...just try googling Erie Zoo and tiger!  The brief article tells us the tiger, a male named Nikki, who is a recent addition to the zoo, is taking his sweet time to explore the exhibit.  Two months, so far, and he's only poked his head out.  The article does not go into detail about the exhibit.

After some searching, I've found some additional information related to zoo design.  The $500,000 exhibit renovation included adding a yard (essentially doubling the space for the tigers), adding grass versus the traditional rockwork underfoot, and upgrading the visitor experience to include glass viewing for nose-to-nose interaction, mesh training panels, and shade to encourage lingering (and in Erie, I suspect, to protect from snow).  Here's a video on the new exhibit.

Nikki came from the Brookfield Zoo, whose tiger exhibit leaves much to be desired.  The Brookfield exhibit is a remnant of the historic bear pits, and is mostly rockwork.  The Zoo has upgraded as much as possible by adding some natural substrate and encouraging vegetative growth, but the exhibit is highly dated.  Visitors can view 180 degrees along the moated pathway.  Nikki's hesitation to explore might be exacerbated by the extreme difference in habitats, not to mention his change of city and additional new neighbors.  Or, he could, as the AP puts it, just be shy. 

Brookfield Tiger Sleeping

If anyone has more data on the new Erie renovation, please pass it along.  I'm curious especially about size and barriers.

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Rotation Exhibits: How To Guide

The idea of rotating animals through several exhibits as a means of enrichment and variability is a relatively new one.  The popularity of the idea is widespread, despite the requirements of large spaces, intensive staff involvement, and complex (or flexible) holding facilities.  Generally, we've been incorporating some sort of rotation capability in all of our exhibits for the past several years.  If the staff is willing, the advantage is great:  providing several smaller exhibits in which to rotate through the animals during the day provides active animals, which in turn, provides engaged guests. 

The upcoming Louisville Zoo Glacier Run exhibit takes full advantage of this type of exhibitry.  Despite the main exhibit area being on the small size, the bears here will have several play areas away from the main exhibit, thereby increasing the overall territory of the animals.  The downside to this is casual visitors may not understand the complexity of the bears' lifestyle, and may judge the exhibit as inadequate. 

However, understanding how to incorporate this important concept will enhance most zoo exhibitry, and many times, is a creative solution to a tricky problem.  Read more about rotation from da man, Jon Coe, here.

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