Some gasped. "Tiger!"
Just overhead, 320 pounds of gold and black fur stalked into view. No cage bars. No thick glass wall. Just barely visible mesh netting.
The mesmerized visitors looked up.
He peered down. Those teeth! Somehow, when those big incisors are 14 feet above . . . gulp.
It was a test run for
The first trail -- 1,735 feet -- was a treetops runway for small primates. The next, at 200 feet, was big and sturdy enough, for on-the-move orangutans.
In 2015, hippos, giraffes, zebras, and the like will go where they have never gone before.
"It's a game-changer," said
Most zoos have gone from barred cages to naturalistic "enclosures" and now incorporate various enrichment equipment designed to keep the animals engaged and active.
But no matter how cleverly designed or enhanced, enclosed exhibits are still "pretty boring," said
"Zoo animals suffer all around the world from a lack of physical fitness and behavioral competence," Coe said.
Eyeing the swan boats
The trail system is a way to give animals change, flexibility, and, above all, choice -- tough to achieve in captivity. It allows them to get exercise and see interesting new things.
Such as a sea of openmouthed humans, cellphones held aloft for a good shot.
With the new trail, the cats can travel out of the main exhibit area, over a major visitor path and down to the ground near the cafeteria entrance -- prepare for gridlock there, too -- and
Or, perhaps, the meaty humans paddling them.
(Nearby in their trail, the orangutans were not as pleased to see big cats in such close proximity.)
The zoo is incorporating the concept in other areas as well. Most mornings, pink flamingos cross a bridge to a new pond. In KidZooU, goats clamber up a stairway to an overlook.
Indeed, the zoo's new theme is "Zoo360" -- as you move around the zoo, the zoo moves around you.
The switcheroos have to be done with caution, however. For instance, big cats pass through bacteria from their raw-meat diet. Plant-eating primates aren't adapted to that. So the big cats might get the run of the orangutan trail in winter, when the warm-climate primates are inside, and the passage will get a cleansing come spring.
The whole notion stems from brainstorming by Coe and the zoo some years ago. By 2006, the zoo had begun animal rotations, moving, say, the panthers to the puma exhibit for a day.
Coe began to wonder, "Why can't we hook everything in the zoo to everything else and let the animals have the run of the place?"
Now, he describes the idea even more simplistically. At a zoo conference in
When it comes to zoos, "how often do these animals get to go for a good walk, get an outing, get some serious exercise, see something new?"
Maple is reminded of a zoo director in
Simple: They liked it.
When Philly came up with its trails idea, "I said, 'Good Lord, this is exactly what we should be doing,' " Maple recalled.
The network of trails works for
And now, Maple said, "zoo architects will begin to use this idea, and we'll see all kinds of iterations."
Keepers are studying what happens, and so far are seeing what they hoped for -- more activity.
They have also noticed novel behaviors, things animals can't do in a traditional enclosure. "As simple as it sounds, just straight, long-distance, high-speed running," said Baker.
Some animals scent-mark the trails -- or worse. (Although the staff thinks it unlikely with the big cats, it can't rule out the possibility that some pedestrians will get dripped on.)
And the small Bolivian gray titi monkeys have started belting out loud territorial calls. "We never heard it while they were indoors," Baker said.
The zoo hopes for a richer experience for the humans as well. They'll now see animals in unexpected places -- more like an animal encounter in the wild.
In conjunction with
The first animals to try out
So far, they seem to like it -- if "like" is something an animal experiences.
Is the tail twitching nervously? Are they cautiously creeping up to the bridge way?
No. They're "up and walking, carefree, chuffing" to each other as they pass, "the tail just swinging along very expressively," she said.
"Their mouth is open and just bringing in all the scents of the area and being catalyzed by the children walking by and seeing all these things that they see from a traditional area, but now they're walking amongst it."
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