Tuesday, June 22, 2021

San Diego Zoo prepares to open state-of-the-art interactive habitats for Komodo dragons and hummingbirds

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has more than 104 years of expertise building bold and innovative wildlife habitats, connecting Zoo and Safari Park guests to wildlife by immersing them in unique ecosystems, and inspiring them to become wildlife allies. On June 1, the San Diego Zoo will unveil two brand-new opportunities for guests to experience the wonders of wildlife and join the nonprofit organization’s conservation mission. The Kenneth C. Griffin Komodo Kingdom and the William E. Cole Family Hummingbird Habitat will replace previous habitats with state-of-the-art spaces where guests can interact with some of the most powerful and delicate species on earth.

“We are thrilled to offer our guests the chance to connect with wildlife in new and exciting ways,” said Dwight Scott, executive director of the San Diego Zoo. “Both of these new destinations continue our long history of creating groundbreaking habitats that are vital in building public empathy for wildlife, telling our conservation story and enlisting help to save wildlife, here at home and abroad.”

Komodo Kingdom will offer visitors the chance to see these magnificent giant lizards up close, and learn more about the species, the challenges they face and the work San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is doing to the save their species—and hundreds of others like them—and the delicate ecosystems they call home.

As guests navigate through Komodo Kingdom, they will explore various environments from Komodo Island in Indonesia, including beach, woodland and mountain highland areas. This new experience includes pools, misters, hot rocks and heated caves—all specially designed to recreate the dragons’ native habitat. Conservationists have estimated that the current Komodo dragon population in Indonesia has declined due to habitat loss, increased tourism and illegal poaching. The species is classified as Vulnerable to extinction on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. As part of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation focus on wildlife within Asian rainforests, the organization has worked to understand the population biology of komodo dragons, including studying births, deaths, survival rates and growth patterns.

The adjacent infinity-loop-shaped Hummingbird Habitat will offer endless flight opportunities to several species of hummingbirds, as well as other rare birds from their native regions in North and South America—shining a light on species many people have heard of, but may not know a lot about. This new, immersive walk-through experience also features streams, cascading water, orchids and other plants reflecting the diversity and beauty of the birds’ native regions—as well as a open-water pool that guests can view from an observation bridge along the pathway. This unique experience heightens the ability of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance to convey the plight of these beautiful birds and ways to help conserve them, all while allowing guests novel educational opportunities to connect with these tiny, colorful-feathered species in a naturalistic, intimate atmosphere.

San Diego Zoo architects have incorporated state-of-the-art sustainable materials as an integral part of Komodo Kingdom and Hummingbird Habitat design. Both habitats include wall and/or roof panels made up of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE)—a fluorine-based plastic that is created to be more resistant to corrosion, which is new to the world of habitat design. The system is 100% recyclable, and consists of a series of custom-sized Teflon multilayered “air pillows”—which, when filled with air, provide great solar insulation, while also reducing the need for artificial lighting. 

 “As a conservation organization, we believe that incorporating sustainable design criteria into our projects is central to our philosophy, and reminds all of us that conservation begins at home,” said Vanessa Nevers, associate architect for the San Diego Zoo. “This design intent embraces our mission by simultaneously integrating the conservation of energy, water and other resources, which ultimately provides a healthier environment for staff, guests and wildlife.”

The spring openings of Komodo Kingdom and Hummingbird Habitat will lead the way for the coming debut of a completely new Children’s Zoo, replacing the original that opened in 1957. The new 3.2-acre Sanford Children’s Zoo is set to open to guests later this year, and will provide kids greater opportunities to discover the natural world through play, and to help them care for and better understand wildlife. The area will include four different themed habitat zones—Desert Dunes, Wild Woods, Marsh Meadows and Rainforest—featuring plants and animals that have adaptations specific to the climatic conditions within each ecosystem. The unique habitat designs will provide families the opportunity to become immersed in communities of wildlife, and to inspire and educate guests on the interconnectedness between wildlife and people.

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