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Hooray for horticulture

Posted by: Kiley Jacques, Senior Rose Gardener

It seems there is a widespread message today to be green. We are encouraged to recycle, compost and support sustainability. But have you ever thought to see green? To imagine what your neighborhood would be without all the trees, shrubs, lawns and diverse vegetation that give life to your world? To view the landscape that surrounds you as a softening agent in a time of all-things-asphalt? More specifically, can you picture our zoo without greenery?

Essential to Woodland Park Zoo is a commitment to naturalistic exhibits. Over the years, much thought has been given to the role horticulture plays in exhibit design. The creation of bioclimatic zones—organizing exhibits in such a way as to group together animals from similar habitats—has proven very effective. Construction plans now begin with the researching of an animal’s native environment. It is thought that, with proper planting techniques, our zoo education department can use exhibits to discuss animal ecology and habitat preservation.

A major player in the application of this ideology across the zoo industry is the Association of Zoological Horticulture. With its advent came, not only the emphasis on naturalized exhibits, but also, according to its website, the “practice of providing plant material for animal ‘diets’ and ‘enrichment’ (things that ‘enrich’ the lives of zoo animals),” including carefully chosen plants that serve as “browse”— plants chosen to augment animals’ diets.

At WPZ, the horticulture staff helps provide visitors with their own enriching experience; people leave our zoo having been immersed in nature, having learned something about animal habitats and ecology, and hopefully having seen some of the amusing behaviors of our animals in their quest for browse treats!

Our keepers, horticulture department, and grounds staff work daily and in varied ways for the betterment of our animals. Being a team is what makes us an award-winning zoo. It takes effort to be green. Anyone able can see green. And the lives of our animals are made best when we all work together to do both.

Photos (from top): Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.