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New tiger and sloth bear exhibit designs revealed

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications

Malayan tiger. Photo courtesy Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

Serving on the exhibit design team for new Malayan tiger and sloth bear exhibits has been the highlight of my years at Woodland Park Zoo. Apologies in advance--you might see an extraordinary amount of exclamation points in this blog post because I am so excited after all this time to unveil the cool features we’ve dreamed up for this new space! And with your support, we can make it a reality!

An overview of the all new, 2-acre tiger and sloth bear exhibit complex. (Click to enlarge.) Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Our tigers and sloth bears currently live in 60-year-old exhibits, some of the last remaining old-school exhibits at the zoo. It’s time to transform this space into a state-of-the-art, naturalistic exhibit complex for these endangered species. We’re making it better for the animals, better for visitors, better for zoo staff and better for the environment through sustainable design.

Here’s how we’ll do it. Let me set the scene…

Enter the tropical forests of Asia and be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest teeming with life—endangered turtles, colorful songbirds, squealing small-clawed otters, foraging sloth bears and tigers playing and soaking up the afternoon sun.

Courtesy of Dickerson Park Zoo. Photographer: Melinda Arnold.

This immersive scene will soon be a reality in our new, 2-acre exhibit complex—the most ambitious zoo project since 1996’s Trail of Vines. In these exhibits, we’ll bring you closer to these animals than you ever have been before, get you talking to our keepers and experts one-on-one, and show you how you can get involved with our efforts to save wildlife and forest habitats.

Want to stroll with me through the exhibit? Here we go.

Pass through the rustic entry and you’re plunged into a world of greens, yellows and browns as a bamboo-rich forest surrounds you.

Exhibit entry. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Do you have little ones with you who have some energy to burn? Head on into the Kids’ Camp play area. Designed with early learners’ needs in mind, we’ll get their mental and motor skills going as they balance on logs, cross a wobble bridge, and fly along a mini-zipline.

Asian small-clawed otter exhibit. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Soon you’ll find yourself lured away from the play area with the promise of otters up ahead. A new species coming to Woodland Park Zoo, the Asian small-clawed otter is the smallest otter in the world.

Asian small-clawed otters. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Zoo.

More terrestrial than the river otters you are used to seeing in Northern Trail, these little otters will be busy running, hunting for fish, grooming and tumbling over each other, cavorting in a marsh or on the beach.

Malay argus. Photo by Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo.

Don’t miss the Tropical Aviary across the path. Here you’ll be captivated by the electric color and musical calls of fairy bluebird, shama thrush, argus pheasant and Pekin nightingale.
Sloth bear exhibit. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Sloth bears are next and I hope you’re ready to get close. Imagine: all that separates you from a foraging sloth bear is a grove of stalks. This innovative containment features steel pipes mimicking bamboo on the bear’s side, securely yielding to the real thing on the visitor’s side.

Bamboo barrier at sloth bear exhibit. Artist rendering by Woodland Park Zoo.

You’ll see, hear, and smell the lively sloth bears as they interact with state-of-the-art enrichment opportunities throughout the new exhibit. They’ll use their sense of smell and dexterity to retrieve food hidden in digging pits, crack into marrow as they break open bones in a specially designed bone-breaking pit, slurp grubs out of logs in their dry ravine landscape and put their vacuum-like eating style to work at a keeper-assisted feeding demonstration.

Sloth bears at the zoo. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Next up is the Conservation Action Center, the educational hub of the exhibit where you’ll connect with real success stories from our field conservation partners and learn how to take action now to build a better future for wildlife.

Conservation Action Center (building on the right) in the heart of the exhibit complex. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

You want to get to those Malayan tigers, don’t you?

Tigers at a stream. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts.

Well, now you'll get closer to tigers than ever before at Woodland Park Zoo. See the natural instincts of these animals kick in when they interact with enrichment opportunities that allow them to stalk “prey” as they chase a lure line that runs through the exhibit, jostle trees to retrieve snacks, and track live fish in a shallow pool.

Tiger sleeping under a banyan tree. Artist rendering by Studio Hanson/Roberts. 

Let the state-of-the-art acoustic engineering transport you with the symphonic sounds of the forest. As you stand under the roots of a banyan tree that bridges the divide between visitor and animal spaces, get close enough to hear even the minutest sounds of the tiger licking its paws, purring and rumbling as it settles in for a nap.

Early concept drawing of tiger training wall.

At the training wall, visitors will have the unforgettable opportunity to observe zookeepers working one-on-one with our Malayan tigers and sloth bears. These training presentations will get visitors closer to live predators than at any other exhibit at the zoo, and provide insight into how the zoo safely cares for such large and dangerous animals.


Of course, these are extraordinary changes, which means we have a long road ahead to get it all done. We expect to begin construction in the fall of 2012 and we plan to open this complex in two phases. Phase One will have the otters and play area, and will open in 2013. Phase Two will have all the rest, and will open in 2014.

We’re making great progress with fundraising but still have a ways to go. This exhibit project is part of our $21.86 million Asian Tropical Forest fundraising initiative. We have already raised more than $6 million and we now turn to the community for your support.

There are three big ways you can help:

First, consider making a gift of any size (a gift of $1,000 or more gets your name in a paw print in the exhibit!).

Second, join us at one of our upcoming open houses (March 31 and April 3) so you can learn more about the project, get your questions answered, and provide valuable feedback.

Third, help us get the word out there—tell everyone you know how excited you are for this project! Hit those Facebook, Twitter and G+ buttons and start sharing.

Together, we can make it happen! THANK YOU!