Lions, tigers and bears oh my!

 A new view at the zoo


In the past few years, the Philadelphia Zoo has added new features such as Zoo360 and KidsZooU, that allows visitors to experience the zoo and the animals in more exciting ways, and helps its mission of educating the public on exotic animals as well as encouraging them to participate in worldwide conservation.


The Philadelphia Zoo, America's first zoo, opened in 1874. The 42-acre zoo is home to 1,300 animals, including some that are rare and endangered. It has featured exhibitions such as PECO Primate Reserve, the Rare Animal Conservation Center and the Reptile and Amphibian House for a number of years.  The Zoo360 — an on-going project  — opened in 2011 and is unique in the nation. The Philadelphia Zoo is the first to create such a campus-wide animal travel system that allows the animals to roam more freely throughout the zoo.


The most recent addition to Zoo360 was Big Cat Crossing, which opened this spring. The 330-foot mesh passageway extends from First Niagara Big Cat Falls and goes above the zoo's main visitor path. Big Cat Crossing offers the opportunity for large felines like lions, tigers, pumas and jaguars to explore the zoo.


"The beauty of this amazing choice, change and complexity we've added to our habitats is this travel time. It benefits their health, well-being and welfare. And they are just delightful to watch! Our visitors just stop and stare and laugh and you see adult men waving at the tigers!," said Tammy Schmidt, the Zoo's curator of carnivores. "How do you explain that feeling of feeling so close to them? There is a personal connection that's made. And I'm hopeful that they are going to make that personal connection and really think about conservation and what they can do for the animals in the wild."


This year, the Philadelphia Zoo is celebrating the Year of the Big Cat, a year-long campaign that hopes to inspire visitors to help raise awareness and protect big cats. All of the animals at the zoo, especially big cats, are impacted by the production of palm oil, a leading global ingredient found in various items we use everyday like food, cosmetics and cleaning supplies. The production of palm oil destroys tropical rainforests, which are home to a variety of wildlife, causing them to become endangered. Throughout the year, guests will learn how they can become "big cat heroes," and learn more about the products they use.


The first feature of the Zoo360 was the Treetop Trail that opened in 2011. Treetop Trail is a 1,735-foot flexible stainless steel mesh elevated passageway that goes through the treetops over the visitor paths. Different species of monkeys can access the trail through their indoor exhibits.


"We've got a bunch of different animals that can use the space and the keepers kind of choreograph it, so each day is a little different. The lemurs might be out in the morning and someone else in the afternoon. It creates all different kinds of opportunities," said Andy Baker, the Zoo's chief operating officer.





The various species you may see exploring the trails include blue-eyed black lemurs, Goeldi's monkeys, white-faced sakis, a red-capped mangabey and a black-and-white colobus monkey.


"By in large, we try to give everyone an opportunity. And some of them are braver than others and immediately start using the whole thing," Baker said. "We have some species that are exploring much more slowly. About seven out of ten are now using the trail more routinely. A couple of others are sort of venturing into small pieces of it."


The second installment of Zoo360 was the Great Ape Trail that opened in 2012. This trail is used by the orangutans and gibbons. The trail extends from the existing orangutan exhibit over the visitor path and through trees to the edge of Bird Lake.


Another new addition to the zoo was KidsZooU in 2013, which replaced the old kids petting zoo area. KidsZooU offers children hands-on learning and interaction with goats, sheep, chickens and ducks. The outdoor exhibit includes a barnyard and stables where kids can pet and brush sheep, a "goat bridge" built above the KidZooU entrance and a goat tower to climb, as well as a parallel structure for children.






"In the indoor exhibits, we talk to kids about saving energy to save wildlife. There is an exhibit that features recycling and shows kids how to recycle and how recycling affects animals here and around the world, so we actually show a direct correlation. We're teaching the kids that they have the power to save wildlife,"  explains Dana Lombardo, the Zoo's director of communications.


KidsZooU also features universal design elements such as signage in Braille, sign language, a QR code to scan with smartphones for other languages, and elements for children with autism.





For more information, visit the Philadelphia Zoo's website.


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Posted Date: 
Monday, June 30, 2014 - 12:00am
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Samantha Madera