The Perfect Zoo Enclosure
The Perfect Zoo Enclosure
The Perfect Zoo Enclosure would surely have to be an exact replica of the territory the animal lived in in the wild.
Visitors to the zoo could wait for the animal to appear...and wait...and wait...and wait. The animal may arrive, today, tomorrow, next week, next month. Territories for some animals are very large.
Meanwhile the animal would be at home. It would be glad to have the 'freedom' not offered in the conventional zoo. It would be 'happy', living off the fat of the land without a worry in the world. It could go where it wanted, when it wanted.
Sounds perfect? We, as thinking human beings would never, should never, want to re-create the wild in captivity.
The wild is harsh, cruel and inhumane. The creatures within it behave like animals. It is hunt and be hunted. It is stress, starvation, dehydration and disease.
Forever looking over your shoulder. Stressed. Natural stress of course.
Will the waterhole dry up? They do so often. A slow lingering death awaits. Rain is just not going to fall in the nick of time as it does in the movies.
A foolish slip. You are lame. Will you escape the hunter?...it is unlikely. Or perhaps you are the hunter. Will you catch enough food to feed yourself and your cubs whilst you are lame.
Your cubs? Are they even still alive? They were fine when you secreted them away this morning. But your last two litters? Four in each. Four eaten by your mate. Four eaten by other predators. Hopefully lucky this time round.
Far from creating nature in the zoo, man should be providing comfort and security. Let the wild be wild that is where it belongs. In a perfect world there would be no zoos but the world is far from perfect.
So many species have become extinct because of man either directly or indirectly. It is man's responsibility to prevent the disappearance of further creatures. The rare and endangered animals in zoos are the ambassadors selling the message of conservation and protection of their home range. The animals too are the 'back up', the founders of re-introductions yet to come.
A view over part of the Jakarta Zoo Gorilla enclosure
There is much rubbish talked about zoo enclosures by the uniformed. An almost rota like quote is "I prefer the open type zoos to the conventional zoo." I do understand what they mean but they don't really know what they are talking about. To the lay person illusion of space means freedom. Zoo designers know this and work on it and management practices refine it. Consider this. The worst Lion accommodation I have seen in any UK zoo was in a Safari Park. Behind the scenes of course and not something a member of public is ever likely to see. No, they just see them relaxing on the 'veldt'.
The perfect zoo enclosure should serve the occupants needs and serve needs of the staff who are to service it and the visitors who will view it. It is a three way street and consideration should be given to all.
First and foremost it should be the animal occupants. The enclosure should provide enough space so that the animals within do not feel threatened (the flight distance is considered). Some may think that this needs acres of space but it doesn't. As long as the space is 'quality' space then half the battle is won. There should be somewhere to hide, somewhere to sleep, somewhere to be alone. There should be things to do (enrichment) and basics like water.
The keepers need an enclosure they can service easily within the working day. It should be safe and secure. There should be efficient and easily operable trapping facilities for maintenance and no blind spots once the animals are on the 'inside'.
The public want to see the animals. It is not always possible but an enrichment training programme could more or less guarantee that they could be seen at certain times. Strategically placed video cameras could ensure they are seen at other times.
The public are an awkward beast. They say "the animals are always asleep when I visit" or "the animals are always pacing up and down when I visit."
Both these need addressing and explaining. Both behaviours are natural and not a case of 'wishing to escape or pending madness'. Labeling on the cages needs to be both colourful and concise and not repetitive.
Visitors (and many zoo directors) want natural looking enclosures and there is nothing wrong with this but at the same time it is not necessarily right. To use two extremes as examples. The Gorilla exhibit in Ranugan Zoo. Jakarta in Indonesia must be one of if not the most beautiful enclosures in the world. It truly is a joy to sit and look at ...even if you don't see a Gorilla. It is thick lush green vegetation, almost natural.
At the other end of the scale we have the Gorilla Enclosure at Howletts Wild Animal Park in the United Kingdom. Here it is a huge box of stainless steel piping bottomed out by a couple of barns full of straw. It could not be more unnatural. Here the Gorillas have an extra dimension, a roof.
Both enclosures are wonderful. Neither is wrong or right because both are excellent. Both offer different perspectives to the public. The point is that unnatural can be nice too...better in some cases. Insistence on natural looking enclosures with natural enrichment is sometimes cruel and unkind. Providing the signage is there to explain the obvious then all backs are covered.
Zoos today should be taking full advantage of modern technology to improve the lives of captive animals. To make working with them safer and more efficient. Lastly to make the visitors visit both memorable and educational. They should go home at the end of the day feeling they have been edutained...if they have then they have learned something.
A zoo may have 60, a hundred or two hundred species. The aim of architect, cage designer, director, keeper and education officer should be to come up with a plan to keep each and every visitor at every exhibit for half an hour. It sould be THAT interesting. Simplicity simply will not do.
The design of enclosures for animals within zoos is part of the all embracing science of Zoo Biology. It would take a book to deal with the subject in depth. Different creatures from ants to anteaters all have their own special requirements.
Enclosure design should meet the needs of all age groups and not just children and visiting schools. Enclosures should be for everyone.