[quote]More and more, as visitors move around the Zoo, the Zoo moves around them.” — Philadelphia Zoo President and CEO Vikram H Dewan[/quote]
Philadelphia, PA, USA — Philadelphia Zoo is moving. Not moving away, but moving up and around. The small primates are swinging and strolling their way through mesh canopies in the treetops. The large primates are enjoying new, elevated vantage points. And this spring, big cats will be on the move like never before at America’s first zoo, thanks to the Saturday, May 10, 2014 public unveiling of Big Cat Crossing – an extension of the Zoo’s revolutionary, first-in-the-world animal travel and exploration system. Titled Zoo360, this innovative trail system promises the most majestic of creatures more room to roam.
“Our new Zoo360 is pioneering an environment that is elevating visitors’ interactions with the animals to a new level,” says Philadelphia Zoo President and CEO Vikram H. Dewan. “The spring 2014 opening of Big Cat Crossing marks another major milestone as we transform the Zoo experience for young and lifelong learners alike.”
With the extension of Zoo360 to include big cats, Philadelphia Zoo is well on its way to becoming the world’s first fully-animated zoo. The trail system’s expansion has positioned the Zoo as an international leader in the rapidly evolving zoo experience. While other zoos have developed bridges and pathways on localized footprints, Philadelphia Zoo is the first to implement a campus-wide animal travel system, designed for a wide variety of species, affording them the opportunity to move more broadly around its campus. As its development continues, visitors will encounter animals moving all around them, making it an interactive experience unlike ever before.
The first trail of Philadelphia Zoo’s three-tiered exploration system –Treetop Trail – opened in 2011 and was expanded in 2013. Specially designed for smaller arboreal species, the 1,735-foot, elevated mesh passageway spans the visitor path and stretches through the trees at the Zoo’s Impala Plaza, featuring two suspended ‘lookout’ points. Treetop Trail was extended last spring with the opening of KidZooU, the new children’s zoo, and now winds down the Zoo’s main pedestrian path to PECO Primate Reserve, allowing primates to travel even further. Blue-eyed black lemurs, white-faced sakis, a red-capped mangabey and black-and-white colobus monkeys enjoy new vistas and new opportunities to experience and respond to weather, local wildlife and the activities of other Zoo animals, Zoo staff and guests.
2012 saw the opening of the Great Ape Trail – the first phase of a second, larger trail system. At 200 feet long, it crosses over the visitor path at PECO Primate Reserve and loops through a grove of trees next to the Zoo’s Bird Lake. Currently, orangutans and white-handed gibbons are among species utilizing this trail for enhanced exploration.
Big Cat Crossing, opening in spring 2014, is a 330-foot mesh-engineered passageway that will extend from First Niagara Big Cat Falls, over and above the Zoo’s main visitor path, encouraging large felines – lions, tigers, pumas, snow leopards and more – to stretch their legs, get outside and explore. The expanded footprint is sure to fuel the curiosity of big cats, and with them, the Zoo’s 1.2+ million annual visitors.
A new extension in 2015 will connect the Great Ape Trail with the gorilla exhibit, allowing gorillas to roam. And looking ahead to 2016 and beyond, a third, fully ground-based trail will engage large, terrestrial animals such as zebras, rhino, giraffe and hippos.
These ground-breaking projects are being funded through grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the William Penn Foundation as well as donations of all sizes from individuals, families and companies, who are concerned with enhanced animal welfare and conservation education.
In each of the systems, animals will be able to rotate through each other’s exhibits, making maximal use of space through time-sharing – in some cases crossing visitor’s paths to do so.
“Beyond a more dynamic, multi-dimensional visitor experience, these trails promise an enhanced quality of life for our animals,” said Dr. Andy Baker, Chief Operating Officer at Philadelphia Zoo. “They can travel longer distances, explore a greater variety of environments and dictate more of their own experiences.”