Letting animals swim, soak and splash
by Judith Rubin
As zoos enlarge and improve their animal accommodations to support a wider range of natural behaviors with more options, water features are often part of the mix. Some pioneering work is being done in this area, changing both the animal experience and the visitor experience for the better, and serving zoos’ mission of conservation and education. We look at several examples in the US.
It’s not a pool, it’s life support
“Water is a wonderful thing, adding a sense of coolness and freshness to a venue, but it’s also behavior enrichment,” said Jumana Brodersen of JCO, a designer with many animal attractions to her credit at SeaWorld parks and recently the Saint Louis Zoo. “People like to look at water and play in it. So do animals, and it makes them and us happy when they do.” Collaborating with executive staff at the Saint Louis Zoo, JCO provided planning, design and execution for the River’s Edge expansion, which opened in June 2014. In a naturalistic setting, a range of animals share bends of the river, customized for their behaviors – mud for the rhinos, streams and ponds for the Painted Dogs and Andean Bears, a floating pool for the hippos and waterfalls for Sun Bears and elephants – while oriented for maximum viewing. [See InPark Magazine issue #54.]
Creating a pool and hardscape are more or less straightforward. “A lot of design details go into creating these environments that engage the animals and entertain the guests,” said Brodersen. What goes into the pool is complex and raises the costs far beyond those of a human swimming pool, with salt water pools costing the most. “There are issues of sustainability and environment,” said Brodersen. “Animals’ skin and hair are different from ours, as is their behavior. They defecate in the water, so it has to be renewed at a pace that keeps it clean. Not only does the water itself have to be just right – the physical forms within the pools have to be, too. The surfaces need to be smooth so the animals don’t get hurt rubbing against them, and they need heavy duty coatings that can withstand regular cleaning and scrubbing. The pools must provide ample space for comfortable turning radiuses for the largest size the animals will reach, and a variety of depths to ensure they can sit half submerged, or swim, or simply float and sun bathe. They may also require crevices with food chutes that animal trainers can use to give them food or toys for enrichments.”
Usually (but not always, as described below) a life support systems (LSS) engineering specialist is brought onto the team at an early stage to specify what’s needed to give the animals a body of water they can use as if they were in their natural habitat. The LSS engineer is usually contracted to the designer or architect, collaborating with them and with the facility to specify the materials and conditions needed for the pool to function and be maintained successfully. There is a community of specialized equipment vendors that LSS engineers call upon in turn, for chemicals, pumps, filters and other gear.
“From a technical point of view, we look at each individual species, and tailor the LSS to them,” said Robert Satchell of Satchell Engineering and Associates, who provided services on River’s Edge. “It’s a habitat where we want to see a clean healthy environment, so we have to maintain water quality with filter processes and disinfection processes. Ozonation is one approach. Sometimes there is some chlorination, sometimes UV light disinfection. How you remove particulate is important, too, and that system depends on the type of animal. It might be screening, mechanical filtration, sometimes sand filtration, sometimes permabead filtration. Of course the guests want it to look natural, so we work with the architect to hide the sumps, skimmers and inlets. The design needs to allocate space and location for the pumps, sand filters, and disinfection requirements, and meet OSHA requirements for mechanical devices.”
Robert Satchell was the project engineer and worked on LSS engineering of the hippo habitat at Busch Gardens Tampa, an acclaimed attraction that opened in 2000 as part of the Edge of Africa® land and 15 years later is still regarded as a benchmark underwater display of a large land mammal. PGAV Destinations provided architectural design.
Swimming elephants in Wichita
If you attended the 2014 conference of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) you may have seen a video preview of Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley. This innovative, $11.6 M animal experience is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend 2016 at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. “We built pretty much everything that was shown in that video,” said Mark C. Reed, the Zoo’s executive director. Reed conceived the idea for the exhibit. “I happened to be fishing the Zambezi and saw elephants walking around. Later I saw the Zambezi exhibit at the Hanover Zoo. It had a channel that shared water between hippos and boats.”
Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley
Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita Kansas
Opening in 2016
–Design, Construction Documents, Bidding and Construction Administration: Craig A. Rhodes, VP Zoological Planning & Design, & Lori Guthridge VP Landscape, GLMV Architecture
–Mechanical Engineering: Greg R. Quigley, P.E., LEED AP, Basis Consulting Engineers
–Overall Project Manager for the Zoo: Larry Pecenka, on loan from Spirit Aerosystems
–Site and Utility work: Max Beins VP, Pearson Construction
–General Construction: Mike Anderson, Project Manager, Martin K. Eby Construction Co.
–Elephant Containment: PowerLane LLC (Todd Rickets)
–Artificial Rock and Waterfall Work: Jeff Reichart, Project Manager, Cemrock
–Landscape, Cheryl Rice: Curator Horticulture, Sedgwick County Zoo
–Irrigation: Andy Veatech, Lawn Sprinkler Services, Wichita, KS
–Outside Yards, Barriers, Railings, Pathways, Final Theming & Graphics: Dan Wright Operations Coordinator & Jeanette Summers, Curator Graphics and Exhibits, Sedgwick County Zoo
Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley is integrated into a canal system on which visitors ride pontoon boats into the Zoo’s North American Prairie zone and come very close to the elephants as well as other animals sharing the same water. An underwater barrier and bumper bar separate the elephants from other animals and from the boats. Nearby are the Zoo’s lemur and flamingo/pelican islands; boat rides will go around the back side of the lemur island, then glide by the elephants pool parallel to the barrier, and then head back between the African flamingo/pelican island and the lemur island. At 550,000 gallons with a surface of nearly 13,000 square feet, Reed believes it will be the largest elephant pool in the world. A deck extends out over the water for those who do not take the boat ride. The exhibit is designed to be a home for up to nine elephants. At this writing the Zoo has just one, a female, to be joined by another four to six herd mates after the construction is finished in fall 2015.
The elephant barrier design went through many iterations. “Craig Rhodes, the architect and I probably spent more time on this barrier design than any other single aspect of the exhibit,” said Reed. “The water edge on the elephant side is 285-feet long. The depth at the deepest point is 12 feet. A small pipe on one side is the boat bumper barrier. The water will be 4 to 6 inches over the top so the pipe will not show. Should the boat lose power and drift over, it will still be out of trunk reach. There is also a cable system on the elephant side.”
This is an unusual case where a LSS engineer was not used because of the Zoo’s existing natural water resources and how the exhibit ties into them. Reed explained the system. “It’s a unique system that allow us many advantages few zoos have. Water is a total flow through system throughout the Zoo, which sits on an underground river. We have 3 wells on the property to lift the water up out of the river and it is used for all animal exhibits and irrigation. All water eventually ends up at our 14 acre South Lake, which is at or just above water table level where it percolates back into the underground system. We are permitted to pump out 1.5 million gallons of water a day; over the last 5 years, we have averaged 650,000 gallons a day. We have a series of streams that empty into ponds and then into more ponds into a large canal system. The canal overflow is nearby which sends water to the South Lake, allowing us to maintain a constant level of water in the canal for the boat ride. The additional waterfall/stream feature found in the elephant exhibit gets its water from the South America exhibit which then flows into the African Painted Dog Moat into the Lion Moat and into the Red River Hog stream before reaching the elephant exhibit. It then flows through the exhibit to the elephant pool/canal. There are several points along the way (South America, Painted Dog and the Lion exhibit) at which additional well water is added and several locations where the water is also partially recycled. We test our well water monthly and have five small test wells in our northwest quadrant from which the water flows to monitor the ground water approaching the Zoo.”
Soaking tigers in Cleveland
Bengal tigers like to swim, but Amur tigers, native to Siberia, just like to soak and dip to cool off. The new exhibit opening in summer 2016 at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will help the zoo’s two resident Amur tigers, Dasha and Klechka, do just that in addition to climbing, hanging out at high elevations and even sharpening their claws. The new tiger habitat is within the Zoo’s Northern Trek zone, home to a variety of cold climate animals including bears, reindeer, Persian Onagers, Bactrian camels, harbor seals and sea lions.
At this writing, construction was about to commence on the tigers’ new range. Two water features are among its four distinct habitats: a pool about belly deep that rolls down into a shallow riverbed throughout the exhibit, and a smaller pool designed so that the level can be increased or decreased. “If we’re fortunate enough to have cubs, we’ll want a shallow depth that is gradually increased,” said the Zoo’s Director of Animal Care and Veterinary Programs, Andi Kornak.
The new tiger habitats are interconnected either through doors or overhead tunnels and allow the cats a great deal of autonomy to choose where they go, when they go there and what they do. In addition to the pools the tigers will enjoy a Russian forest area, climbing structures and overhead tunnels that let them pass over the public walkway where they can see and be seen.
Kornak is enthusiastic about the new design direction and the benefits for the tigers. “They get to choose the environment they’re most comfortable in. It’s also a more immersive experience for visitors – a literal passageway through the Amur tiger’s habitat and peek into the life of a tiger, with large windows and opportunities to view the animals from close up and far away.” The design promotes the chances of the tigers making themselves visible, and being happy and healthy. “They love Cleveland winters,” said Kornak,” and can be outdoors any time of the year, any time of the day.” When they’ve had enough winter cooling off, there are heated rock surfaces to lay upon.
Visitors can expect to see fitter tigers in Cleveland soon. “One of the great goals of this increase in activities and natural behaviors is that the animals become very strong and fit,” said Kornak. “They’ll be healthier, longer lived and have a greater ability to reproduce. With more activity in their space, they’re physically and mentally stimulated. We should see a difference in a matter of months. The public will be able to see some very impressive, fit cats and develop a greater appreciation for that species. Our existing African Elephant crossing habitat here has some of the same key features and stands as a great example of the positive impact on behavior and health. We have a very sophisticated research and science staff that measures that.”
WDM is the zoo exhibit specialist architect firm. Van Auken Akins is the local Cleveland area coordinating architect’s firm. Also involved in the design is Cleveland Metroparks Planning & Design Division. Panzica Construction is the construction contractor. Life Safety Systems engineering is provided by Satchell Engineering and Associates.
Reiterating the connection to mission, Kornak said, “When we create compelling experiences to connect guests with wildlife and see them in a naturalistic habitat, displaying naturalistic behaviors, then we can start connecting people with wildlife and conservation and help save these species. It’s not impossible.” • • •