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The Perfect Zoo Enclosure

Updated on June 7, 2011

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? 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

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An 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.

Part of the massive Howletts Zoo Gorilla enclosure

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Silverback Gorilla

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Submit a Comment
  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    9 years ago from South East Asia

    kepeters85 _ I could not agree more. Animals belong in the wild and 99% of zoo professionals would agree with you.

  • kepeters85 profile image


    9 years ago from New Orleans, LA

    You always have to consider the aniamls habbitat first!

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    adorababy - enclosures and territories is a huge subject which sadly few people even try to grasp. Thanks for reading.

  • adorababy profile image


    10 years ago from Syracuse, NY

    I think this idea is reinventing and it gives a whole new outlook to zoo visitation. Personally, this is way better as you will be able to see the natural interaction of animals in a semi "unguarded" environment.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Thank you zoo713. I am pleased to learn we share an outlook on what can be a very big subject.

  • profile image


    10 years ago

    I very much enjoyed this article. I work at SMALL zoo in the US (7.5 acres) and the comment we here most often from visitors is 'the animals look so happy and occupied in their exhibits'. When we re-did all our existing exhibits 5 years ago, we decided that we would build to suit the animal needs, natural or not. Too often, 'natural' means 'neglected, weed-over grown and unkempt'. Our Snow Leopards have climbing structures and platforms to leap upon, but they are made of wood rather than rock work. Our lemurs have a wonderful area to climb and leap about, but we made it out of wood and tek decking (recycled 'plood'). Our animals are visible to the public, but still at ease. Our visitors tend to stay in our zoo for a minimum of 2 hours - which is a long time, considering our size.

    I should say we are surrounded by 2 large zoos that subscribe to the need for everything to look 'natural' - unfortunately, they don't succeed. They look, as I mentioned, unkempt and neglected instead. We have many visitors who, after visiting us, comment on how much nicer our exhibits are compared to the other zoos and they prefer to visit us.

    Thanks for taking the time to research this topic so well. The public (and frnkly zoo professionals) need to start realizing that 'natural' exhibits are not always the best ones...the best ones cater to the needs of the animals while providing the zoo visitor with th chance to be educated, entertained and connected to the wild.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Good luck with the interview Ben. I hope it goes well. Sadly my opinionated views have prevented me gaining employment I feel.

  • Ben Zoltak profile image

    Ben Zoltak 

    10 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

    Excellent Mr. Dickinson. I have an interview at a Zoo today and am doing some background research. I have had the "all natural" attitude for many years, I am glad to hear your well rounded perspective on varying enclosures, I see your points! Well done and thanks.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    There are a few good Philippine zoos K.C. - It will take time and more will follow suit. Thanks for reading.

  • profile image


    10 years ago

    The zoos in the Philippines don't stand a chance. I honestly feel sorry for the animals here in our place.

  • ntweisen profile image


    10 years ago

    Great hub!

  • Isabelle22 profile image


    10 years ago from Somewhere on the coastline

    As an animal lover I enjoyed reading this hub immensely

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    theherbivorehippi - Thank you for that comment. I must admit I expected a rant in return but it was a nice reply and shows you have read my hubs.

    It may surprise you to learn that there are many vegetarian zookeepers and a fair sprinkling of Vegans too. Thanks again.

  • theherbivorehippi profile image


    10 years ago from Holly, MI

    I have been reading your hubs for about an hour now. You have some amazing writings and a very strong and solid view point. I know you disagreed with my zoos was actually a 'summed' up writing on some Squidoo lenses I had written and articles on Helium. I really do appreciate and understand that there are some zoos that do love their animals and that are beautiful and the animals are treated the way they should be cherished. I do sadly know after doing a lot of research that there are so many animals that are not cared for properly or have been living isolated when they should be paired up or in herds and it's heartbreaking. I know that as a child I loved the zoo. Being a Vegan, the more I become involved in animal rights and fighting for petitions for animals I unfortunately stumble upon more negative animal environments then positive ones. I have thoroughly enjoyed your Hubs and will continue to read them. Its such a good feeling to be reminded that there are people that take care of the animals and love them as we all should. You have definitely visited some beautiful places!

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks Una, you are right it is very rare to keep everybody happy. If only there was some way to have a friendly and informed keeper at hand all of the time the visitor would be happy. An instant explanation prevents the blood from even to start simmering...sadly not enough keepers, not enough time...and few people read more than two lines on a sign.

  • profile image

    Una Richardson 

    10 years ago

    Hi Peter - a very interesting read - of course I agree with all you have written, but I think an additional problem nowadays is that that the general public are so used to 'instant gratification' in most if not all areas of their lives - high speed broadband access, instant meals, texting, shopping, not to mention the high animal count they are constantly bombarded with when watching wildlife documentaries. Patience seems to be an endangered species. The collection I work for currently has a drive through reserve of approximately 60 acres containing around 60 individual animals, in addition to a large walk-around area and a smaller drive-through, and one of our most common complaints is that 'There are NO animals in the drive through reserve.'

    Some of this was addressed by your suggestion of timed/enrichment feedings, but our problem would be parking space during busy times if we were to do this.

    I suppose it comes back to the old saying that you can't please all the people all the time...

    Best regards, Una

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    upal19- So many places to go and so little money to get there. Maybe one day ;-)

  • upal19 profile image

    Ashraf Mir 

    10 years ago from Dhaka

    When will you come to Bangladesh Mr. Peter?

  • Catherine R profile image

    Catherine R 

    10 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

    Really interesting to read what you have to say. I would have been the person that thought the huge stainless steel box was all wrong. So you have opened my eyes!

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks dohn121 glad you liked it. I have an ezine account I think...better check back.

    The Perfect Zoo Enclosure has been sitting half finished on my computer for months. It is such a big subject I did not quite know how to finidh it. I jumped in on one of my more productive moments.

  • dohn121 profile image


    10 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

    Yes, Peter, you will make some money on the net. Have you tried your hand at writing for You are more than capable of doing so (heck, they accepted me). As always, a great job on writing another outstanding hub! I especially liked this line, Peter:

    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.

    You knocked this one out of the animal conservatory if you ask me. Wonderful!

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    10 years ago from South East Asia

    awsydney - I have thought of a loop through Australia many a time but am sort of stuck in Asia right now. If I can pull a bit of money together I will move on. One day I will make some money on the inyernet..I will...I will...

  • awsydney profile image


    10 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    Nice! When are you going to drop by at my zoo enclosures? :)


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