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Are zoogeographic exhibits out?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by La Cucaracha, 16 Jan 2023.

  1. La Cucaracha

    La Cucaracha Well-Known Member

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    Historically, zoo animals have been exhibited in taxonomic fashion. Partly for ease of care, partly for zoos having a "stamp collecting" mentality.
    More recently, we've had zoogeographic exhibits: which can be wonderfully educative, but are often repetitive across zoos. "Asian temple", "Amazon river", "African savannah".
    Now there is a new contender: the habitat based exhibit, which would feature animals grouped by their general biome rather than geographically. I.e. white rhinos, red kangaroos, and American bison would be displayed in "Great Grasslands"; rather than in "African Giants", "Australian Walkabout", and "American Wilderness" respectively.
    What do zoochatters think about this new idea? Do you prefer zoogeographic or taxonomic groupings instead?
     
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  2. SwampDonkey

    SwampDonkey In the Swamp Premium Member 5+ year member

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    Zoogeographic 100%. The only place I am in favor of taxonomic groupings are reptile houses. Even those I prefer to be sectioned into zoogeographic areas. The general public is confused enough about where animals live (eg, tigers in Africa), we don't need to be confusing them even more.

    I am not sure that they are "out" in terms of planning. ZooTampa recently announced their 20+ year initiative and it is geographic heavy with a new South America area and revamps of their African and Asian areas. North Carolina Zoo is doubling down with their new Asian and Australian areas currently under construction.

    If anything many zoos are getting even more specific on areas, such as Houston and their new Galapagos area.
     
  3. Fallax

    Fallax Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I think all 3 have their benefits and drawbacks.

    Taxonomic exhibits allow you to compare and contrast closely related species and it is also rather easy to house similar species together, however it can be a bit "stamp-booky" and can mean an exhibit has less variety and surprises so to say.

    Geographic exhibits are educational about different habitats and places around the world and can be great to show the different relationships between species in their natural habitats and threats they face. However this has become so common that a lot of exhibits can feel a bit samey but that might just speak to the success of this exhibittry method. Sometimes a lot of geographic exhibits can feel like they have a "centrepiece" species and the others exhibited there feel like "filler" or background... I feel this is sometimes the case with birds and herps in bigger buildings or antelope in mixed savanna settings.

    Biome-based exhibits are great at showing the parralels and differences in similar regions in different parts of the world and can do a great job of letting less familiar habitats such as deserts stand out more to the average visitor. A drawback is that sometimes they can be confused with a geographic exhibit and might be lacking in familiar species to intrigue visitors.

    Overall I think zoos can either go one method or do a complete mix, I really don't think any one is more so better than the other! Also I think there is certainly a fourth type of exhibit that is relatively common... "Behaviour-based" exhibits such as nocturnal houses for one.
     
  4. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    I prefer zoogeographic exhibits, especially replicating one actual place.

    But you forgot a bit different trend, which largely replaced habitat exhibits: cultural exhibits, with exotic temples, buildings etc. I personally don't like them, because they are typically kitschy and teach nothing about the animals themselves.
     
  5. La Cucaracha

    La Cucaracha Well-Known Member

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    RIP Bronx Zoo's World of Darkness!

    I did in fact, mention the dreaded "Asian temple". I'm also not quite a fan of thatched roof huts in African exhibits for the same reason. Zoos wouldn't dream of planning a European wild exhibit with thatched roof huts.
     
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  6. Fallax

    Fallax Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I think these sort of replications of cultural exhibits can be fine if done tastefully and with respect to the original culture... Though the fact that this fails so often may go to show it might not be worth the effort in the first place! I can think of a good few zoo exhibits that have been considered culturally offensive in their design.
     
  7. elefante

    elefante Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    This is done in Chapultapec Zoo and it's an interesting twist.
     
  8. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    There's no right or wrong way to theme different Zoo exhibits. While zoogeographic exhibits are certainly common, they do have their important place in zoos but shouldn't be considered the norm or the only valid way to set up exhibits. Biome exhibits and taxonomic exhibits are also very good choices, as are exhibits with completely different themes. Zoo theming and layout has been a topic covered quite a lot on this site, so if you use the search feature I'm sure you'll find a plethora of other posts on this topic.
     
  9. dillotest0

    dillotest0 Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I totally agree - in my extensive thread about Marwell I made some critiques of the [rather spacious] Siamang exhibit for its 'Hollywood Architecture':
    "...Though, there is still, from my point of view, and others' - still a rather incongruous thing in the enclosure - in the rough centre, there is some attempt at replicating Hollywood's impression of 'an ancient temple with a similarly ancient tree sprouting on top of it', alongside other temple-themed architecture. And so, I feel another need to ramble about another thing I feel is worth rambling about - what I call 'Hollywood Geography' - the kind of geography and architecture found not based in reality, but in aesthetic and consumerism. I am thinking along the lines of - 'Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo.' sort of thing - the usage of real places and identities to create a malformed impression of those places and identities. But - does, one may ask, Um Bongo's advertising campaign truly reduce the percived identity of Congo indigenous tribes to a more 'primitive' state of mind? To which I answer, I think it does. I do see the appeal of 'Hollywood Geography' in zoo architecture [Amazon World Zoo Park was, during the 2000s, quite an execution of this trope!] - in that, where the Western World is concerned, the only exposure many people may get of these cultures + identities is through dramatised interpretations of it - the interpretations we see in the movies, video games, commercials - but - a zoo is a place of education, a place to portray animals' zoography in a reasonable and responsible manner - and so, Hollywood Geography, as is perhaps shown here, should be avoided when creating animal exhibits, and the cultural identities, should we talk about them, should be in as accurate a manner as possible. "
     
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  10. elefante

    elefante Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    Was it on the General Zoo Discussion forum someone suggested a geographic exhibit themed instead with biogeographic realms such as Nearctic and Palearctic? That would also be an interesting twist.
     
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  11. JVM

    JVM Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    I should consider myself lucky I've not yet visited a zoo with the staple cultural kitsch problems, though Brookfield has certainly invoked local cultures, they don't seem to go 'theme park' with it. I've never even seen a lost temple exhibit in a zoo, and if I were not on zoochat, I would think it sounded novel and fresh!

    I think taxonomic grouping is underrated. Small mammals seem to have especially suffered from zoo-geographic exhibts compared to small mammal houses, and birds and smaller reptiles often feel like small ornaments compared to megafaunal main attractions. I also feel like some zoos have less aquatic birds than they would if they were in dedicated buildings. I've also seen smaller animals be dropped from plans as cost-cutting measures. There's no need to go back to big cat houses or bear grottos, but for displaying reptiles, birds, small mammals, I think the taxonomic approach is still solid.

    Still, to the original question -- I think zoogeography is still the more popular approach, and in many ways the best one, even if I feel they have become somewhat homogenized based on a handful of habitats, they provide the most education and immersion possible for visitors and that is still incredibly important.
     
  12. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Call me uncultured, but I’ve been to so many generic “Africas” now that I really enjoy the odd zoo that just completely mixes things up - whether that’s a taxonomic approach or, best of all, no attempt at theming whatsoever. To be honest I don’t really care whether the average zoo visitor knows where lions or tapirs are from.
     
  13. Fallax

    Fallax Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Biogeographic theming can still work if there is something else of interest: Little Africa at Cotswold Wildlife Park is a good example... Basically a small mammal house for African species like gundis.
     
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  14. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Exhibits incorporating culture doesn't make them inherently poor exhibits, and it can be done in a solid, tasteful manner. As you point out, many zoos have gone "theme park" so to say with this cultural theming and intricate level of detail. However, I'm not so sure that I'd consider that a bad thing. The Mahajarah Jungle Trek at Disney's Animal Kingdom still remains one of my favorite exhibits, even though it is quite literally part of a theme park. What's most important, however, is that the theming is done in a manner that is respectful of local cultures, such as the case of Kingdoms of Asia at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, where leaders in local indigenous communities helped with the exhibit design and construction in an effort to make a realistic cultural attraction.

    Keep in mind that as conservation-minded organizations, zoos need to reach out to the native peoples as well, as conserving animals without acknowledging the culture and lifestyle of indigenous people is not an effective way to make long-term impacts on conservation. One great example of a zoo doing a great job with this is Woodland Park Zoo and it's TK-CP, conserving tree kangaroos while also building partnerships with the people of New Guinea. Like it or not, culture is an integral part of conservation and I don't see anything wrong with zoos reflecting this in their exhibit design, as long as it's down respectfully and does not compensate for poor animal welfare and/or minimal educational value. One of my biggest gripes with the Mahajarah Jungle Trek, despite overall thinking it's an incredible exhibit, is the lack of signage in the exhibit- as it's important, even when culture and theming are integral to an exhibit's design, that education and conservation are still embedded in these exhibits.

    As for your points about taxonomic exhibits and collection planning, I don't think it's fair to say that geographic or cultural exhibits can't incorporate small mammals, or can't highlight the birds, reptiles, fishes, and invertebrates of a region either. While there are certainly many examples of exhibits that ignore these smaller animals in favor of charismatic megafauna, I feel this does more to reflect upon the zoo's decisions regarding collection planning rather than the exhibit themes themselves. To use an example I know you're familiar with that does a great job of incorporating these underrepresented types of animals into a zoogeographic exhibit is African Journey at the Lincoln Park Zoo, with a number of small mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, and more from the continent of Africa. I would love to see more zoos take this sort of approach, and focus on the entire ecosystem of a given region, including these smaller life forms. Honestly, I'd love to see some zoos take this a step further and also focus on the plants and other forms of life that call these areas home too, creating an exhibit that can truly encompass a given region, rather than just "here's a bunch of African savanna animals exhibited near each other", or "this temple has a bunch of Asian animals in it".

    An issue with the execution of zoogeographic areas, however, is I find oftentimes zoos focus too broadly on entire continents, rather than narrowing down the focus to allow a more comprehensive look at a region. No "Africa" exhibit will ever be able to replicate the entire continent, for instance, as there's simply too much to accomplish for the amount of space that most zoos can dedicate to one exhibit complex. Sure, a zoo might be able to do a good job representing "Africa" if they dedicate fifty plus acres to it, but most zoos don't have the space or other resources for that. I'd much rather see some zoos, instead of designing a convoluted Africa complex or a generic "Savanna"/"Forest", focus on much more specific regions or countries. For instance, I'd love to see an exhibit focused on the Namib Desert, and the animals, both large and small, that inhabit the desert. An exhibit focusing on the Horn of Africa, an underrepresented biodiversity hotspot, in zoos would also be greatly appreciated.

    This applies to other continents as well, with how many generic "Neotropical" areas or "Amazon" exhibit, why aren't there more zoos investing in Central America and designing complexes featuring animals from a different Neotropical Forest? Even within Amazon complexes, it'd be great to see some more narrow focuses, such as an exhibit on the Atlantic Forest or an exhibit focusing on Bolivia. While these are just ideas that I thought of that may or may not be feasible, the point remains that there are plenty of regions of the world seldom highlighted in geographic and cultural displays, so it'd be great if zoos would look for underrepresented regions for their displays, rather than the same old, same old.

    I've said this before and I'll say it again: There are two ways that zoos are able to distinguish themselves. The first is through their collection, and the second is through their exhibitry. As a greater focus is made towards sustainable populations, and as such the homogenization of certain collections that follows, it would be great to see zoos use exhibitry as more of a way to distinguish themselves, by focusing on themes and executions of complexes that have never been done before. Unique exhibitry can be just as exciting to see at a zoo than rare and unique species, so it'd be great if more zoos capitalized on this and planned more unique exhibits- whether they be geographic, taxonomic, or otherwise.
     
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  15. elefante

    elefante Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    It would be nice to see a focus on specific areas in a continent. ABC animals could anchor it and other lesser knowns be present. For example, mountain zebras would be a good anchor for a Namib Desert area and other species like gemsbok could complement it.
     
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  16. Brayden Delashmutt

    Brayden Delashmutt Well-Known Member

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    Honestly, I prefer taxonomic exhibits MUCH more. They're quite convenient for people who want to see specific groups of animals or certain species. Also, I feel like, as already states, the same exhibits have been repeated time and time again. Many exhibits and zoos have lost their diversity, now that almost every one has an African Grasslands or Asia or South American exhibit that's almost identical.
     
  17. Brayden Delashmutt

    Brayden Delashmutt Well-Known Member

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    Also agree with this. IMO, if you're going to make an exhibit on the natural habitat of wildlife, try to immerse the guests into that ecosystem not neccesarily the stuff mentioned above
     
  18. Brayden Delashmutt

    Brayden Delashmutt Well-Known Member

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    I think that Bear and Big Cat themed taxonomic exhibits are one of the better layouts for displaying these carnivorans-it can show the differences between species, and help the public learn more about taxonomy and common ancestry
     
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  19. La Cucaracha

    La Cucaracha Well-Known Member

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    I like a good cat, reptile, or bird house myself. It's not necessarily at odds with zoogeographic theming, either. I think the biggest problem with old cat houses is the space constraints.
    Still, as an eastern Coloradan, I would enjoy a grassland exhibit that featured animals from grasslands around the world, maybe a small museum explaining the evolution of grass and grazing animals, etc. I think it would potentially interrupt the least with the natural landscape.
     
  20. La Cucaracha

    La Cucaracha Well-Known Member

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    Must add that I'm insane about the good old hoofstock or "horns and hooves" exhibits. I want to see as many big game animals from around the world possible, especially species another zoo might not have.
    But I feel like antelopes are on the same level of popularity for most of the zoo going public as birds; and that maybe exhibiting animals in that order might not offer the most conservation or educational value.
     
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