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Our Exhibits Crew: Making Our Green Wishes Come True!

Posted by Barbara Segal, Intern

Don’t you wish you had a fairy godmother who could transform your old stuff into something new and beautiful? Or maybe little elves that came out at night and made useful things for you from the odds and ends in your home? Someone at your zoo must have made a wish like that, because we have a whole guild of magicians who transform fallen trees, disassembled fences, and general almost-rubbish into things that our animals, keepers and guests use every day. Our exhibits team knows how to reuse, not only saving natural resources, but saving money so we can put more toward our animals and conservation. 
Some of our Exhibits crew! Photo by Barbara Segal, Woodland Park Zoo
Last winter, downed trees and branches were everywhere after the 2018 Snowpocalypse. Lots of us put them in our yard waste. But did our team? No way. All those great trunks and branches were put in storage yards, along with the remains of trees removed because they were sick or hazardous. There they wait eagerly for the myriad of new lives they can have at the zoo. Branches can become perches for animals. These give naturalistic places to rest for all kinds of animals, from birds to primates. Trunks and branches added to animal habitats also give them new smells and things to explore, making their lives richer and more fun. 

Golden Lion Tamarin on branch, photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.

If you’ve had a chance to visit the Alvord Broadleaf Theater, you’ve seen some of that salvaged wood in action, as our Ambassador Animals strut their stuff on and around salvaged tree fragments. Some removed trees are even making life easier for our geriatric animals. Downed trees can be turned into slabs that serve as ramps to help these older animals get around their spaces. 

Seth and Blueberry greet their guests, photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo.

If a removed tree is big enough, it can even become a bench or a table. You may have spotted these sculptural beauties in places like the Steller’s sea eagle habitat, the African Savannah Aviary, and across from Willawong Station. If you’ve noticed the amazing desk near the Zoomazium entrance, you’ve seen the magic our team can make. It takes weeks of love and labor, but the beauty and functionality of these pieces make our zoo a bit of a fairyland.

Zoomazium table photo by Barbara Segal, Woodland Park Zoo.
Our exhibits crew reuses much more than downed trees, though. Your zoo is constantly improving the experience for you and the animals, so when a sign, building, or other structure comes down, our team saves lumber, metal, and plastic pieces behind the scenes. Depending on the material, sometimes a piece even a few inches long is worth saving! When they set those materials aside, they often don't have any idea what it will transform into later. But when they find out about something our animals or staff need, they can grab those ready-at-hand materials faster than you say abracadabra. Reusing isn’t just sustainable and economical—it can be faster than ordering new materials.
Photo by John Loughlin, Woodland Park Zoo.
What are some things that have gotten reused? The trellises in the Microsoft Pollinator Patio were made from reclaimed wood. Fusing both new materials and reused metals and plastics, our team build a port to help take ultrasounds of a gorilla’s heart. When the exhibits crew replaced the fence around the Wildlife Theater, they kept the old fence and reuse it bit by bit. Salvaged materials help update and repair ZooDoo equipment. A removed fence became an elegant gate between the flamingos and red panda – check it out the next time you walk by! These are just a few examples – there are lots of little places where second use materials come in handy all the time. When you know where to look, reused materials are everywhere in the zoo. 

Trellis in pollinator garden, photo by Barbara Segal, Woodland Park Zoo.

Wooden gate next to flamingo exhibit, photo by Barbara Segal, Woodland Park Zoo.
The exhibits wizards don’t just reuse old items from around the zoo. For more than ten years, the Seattle Fire Department had been donating their old firehoses to us. No, we don’t use them for moving water—they are hiding in plain sight as vines in our Tropical Rain Forest and many of the of our primate’s habitats. After a two-step base coat of rubber, they get a top coat that is embossed with texture pads to give them a realistic appearance. The texture pads are casts from real trees, so the vines look natural to both animals and visitors. Volunteer fire departments have since joined in, allowing us to give our animals even more sustainable habitats to explore. This relationship doesn’t just help us – the fire departments save disposal fees when we take their used equipment. 

Fire hose, by John Loughlin, Woodland Park Zoo

Colobus monkey by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo
Not all zoos are so lucky as to have a dedicated team to enhance and maintain their structures and equipment. Sometimes these tasks are delegated to an off-site company. By having these amazing staff and their shops right here on zoo grounds, we save the fossil fuels that might be used if these items were built elsewhere. By being focused and knowledgeable about our zoo, these skilled folks become experts in creatively reusing materials to support our animals, staff, and guests. Well, it helps that some of them have degrees in art or theater tech experience!

Photo by John Loughlin, Woodland Park Zoo.

Photo by Barbara Segal, Woodland Park Zoo.

Sometimes, though, we have used construction items we just don’t have room to store. When our crew has still-usable things that we can’t keep ourselves, we take them to businesses that resell them for renovation and construction projects. That old lumber, shelving, or other building material you picked up from Ballard Reuse or Second Use may just be from your zoo! 

Our Exhibit team’s creativity in reusing materials sure is inspiring. Think of all the ways we can follow their lead to be sustainable in our own homes: finding creative ways to use waste, reusing instead of buying new, repairing instead of replacing, giving things we can’t use to thrift or reuse shops, or getting things that someone else has used to make it our own. It helps save the environment, and often time and money too! Maybe we don’t need to wish for a fairy godmother after all—we can wave the wand of sustainability all on our own.

Bamboo stick or sustainability wand? You decide! Photo of tree kangaroo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo.