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Tiger Crossing a Winner!

“Tiger Crossing”, the 100m long elevated and terrestrial big cat trail at Philly Zoo has been voted “Best Zoo Exhibit in the USA” in the “People’s Choice 10 Best” . Overall the Philly Zoo 360 program with its multiple sized and extensive aerial trail networks I helped to conceive and design has become a roaring success and is still growing. The 91m long “Gorilla Treeway” section opened last week, joining the 60m section of the Great ape Trail now used by orangutans and gibbons. When all the big cats and great apes are accustomed to their trail sections they will be given access to the entire 250m length on a time-share basis. Philly Zoo plains to give five species of big cats alternating access during the cold season, clean the system thoroughly and give primates access during warm season. This mid-weight trail system will eventually be extended to the present bear exhibits to provide access for three bear species. Smaller primates using their present light weight 500m long “Treetop Trail” can even be allowed to join the larger great ape/big cat network. The new Kid’s Zoo U (AZA Exhibit Award for 2014) also adds 120m of land and overhead pathways for sheep, goats and kids (both two and four footed) as well as a pony runway. Scientific animal behavioural evaluations are underway and we hope to have the first results in the next 6-9 months. This aerial trail network idea is spreading with similar systems opening at Jacksonville Zoo in Florida and Guadalajara Zoo in Mexico (another of my clients). And as you probably heard, Adelaide Zoo recently opened an attractive small overpass for golden lion tamarins. While such trail networks are not inexpensive to build and operate, they give smaller land-locked zoos tremendous growth opportunities while greatly improving animal access to behavioural and exercise opportunities. Based upon the USA Today poll, people really enjoy them as well!


Testimonials on the Network Concept:

Robert John Young:  "I really like this concept as an animal behaviourist it totally makes sense and I am sure it must be very good for the psychological well being of the animals. Not to mention that the zoo is no longer a static place - it is dynamic like the wild and the public will need to seek out the animals. Great to see that you keep pushing the boundaries on enclosure design and modification."

Wendy Husband:  "I find this so interesting and innovative and see enormous opportunities for zoos of all sizes - the animals display such confidence and comfort and I especially LOVE when we get to see the animal totally engaged its own activity. Bravo and thanks for sharing your presentation that I'm sure will inspire many new trails in zoos around the world.."

Patti Ragan:  "Hi Jon, Center for Great Apes has over a mile now of elevated treetop travel chutes... about 5500 feet. Ten years now, and still adding aerial trailways. Come visit us again."

Dr. Andrew Baker, CEO, Philadelphia Zoo.“Thank you so much for the ideas, direction and inspiration you’ve provided since the start of our journey on this. Hard to believe your very first sketches were just 5 years ago. Listening from my window to our titis yelling at something from their trail right now, and imagining where we’ll be in another 5 years”

Terry Maple: "It's a game-changer. "It's going to change the way we build zoos in the future."


Want More Background

On This Animal Movement Network Concept?

April 2014

Animal raceways have been used in the livestock industry, perhaps for centuries and are commonly used in zoos to move animals from point A to point B. These are especially used in behind-the-scenes situations.  The difference in the Tree Top Trail and other developments at the Philadelphia Zoo is that the raceway networks are also flexible multi-species exhibits, providing unparalleled opportunities for self-directed animal exercise and exploration.  This expands upon animal rotation systems I have been advocating since 1995.  To read the background paper CLICK HERE.

Raceways at Center for Great Apes

Elevated raceway network at the Center for Great Apes, who provided these photos

I first got the raceway network idea while observing macaques being moved along a raceway at the Primarily Primates animal sanctuary in Austin Texas in about 2001.  Sometime later when visiting the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula Florida, I suggested to owner Ms Patti Ragan that she hook up her existing primate play domes with a network of elevated raceways through the spreading oaks on her property.  Since then she has developed over one mile of raceways, which are greatly enjoyed by the resident orangutans and chimpanzees.  Several years later I suggested using an elevated raceway system to extend exhibits at Philadelphia Zoo to now CEO Dr. Andy Baker.  In 2009 he invited me to help Philadelphia Zoo develop such a system along with my old firm CLRdesign.  I immediately suggested he and key staff visit the Center for Great Apes and observe their system and management program first hand.  Given confidence by Ms Regan’s pioneering developments, Philadelphia Zoo proceeded boldly with their 2010 Transformation Plan to eventually enhance their entire campus with a network of animal trails; the first several stages are illustrated in the narrated Power Point Next Generation Rotation Exhibits: Raceway Networks and Space to Explore.

What does the future hold?

At present animal movement is controlled by zoo caregivers. In the future a system of “smart gates” may be developed to recognise individual animals using RFID identification microchips.  These smart gates could be programmed to allow certain individual animals to go where they wished on certain days on a rotational basis, giving them greater control over their own activities.  This is a major goal to improve animal psychological wellbeing.  As each animal passes through a smart gate a data point could be logged on a research program and public interpretive information could be programmed to provide information on the individual animal entering the nearby section of the trail.  Messages could also be sent to visitor smart phones using zoo apps to alert them of animal movements.  Complex automated transit management systems can have problems, but they are used globally in major railway systems and in production animal industries.  I’m sure a similar system can be developed to manage inter-exhibit zoo animal movements while encouraging greater individual choice and behavioural competency for zoo residents.



Last updated: 18 April 2014