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Woodland Park Zoo Banyan Wilds: Review

Discussion in 'United States' started by snowleopard, 11 May 2015.

  1. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Banyan Wilds Review:

    Woodland Park Zoo opened its Banyan Wilds complex on May 2nd, 2015, to much fanfare and at a total cost of $20 million. The first phase of development actually made its debut in the spring of 2013 and consisted of an Asian Small-Clawed Otter exhibit, an Asian bird aviary and a children’s play area. As of 2015 the loop is complete with the addition of a Malayan Tiger habitat and a pair of Sloth Bear enclosures, along with a Conservation Field House and a mini-plaza for guests to congregate. The good news is that the 2-acre slice of land newly dubbed “The Heart of the Zoo” has gone from showcasing a trio of 1950’s era grottoes to a more modern, naturalistic Asian-themed zone that is superior to its predecessor. The bad news is that all of the additions are underwhelming, and considering the cost and the status of the zoological park there is a palpable sense of disappointment lingering in the air.

    The first phase of the complex consisted of an average-sized aviary that is still lushly planted but nothing that holds the average visitor for more than a few seconds. The children’s play area incorporates a variety of items that are not usually found in such zones (mini zipline, bamboo-themed poles, wooden bridge and steps) and far more time is spent in that area. Since the play zone is along the main pathway there are countless children who inhabit it and in retrospect it is far too small as it fills up quickly and is jam-packed on busy days. The highlight of the first phase is the Asian Small-Clawed Otter exhibit simply because the original pair rapidly produced 8 young in a fairly short period of time. To witness a rampaging horde of 10 otters traversing their sloped exhibit is a wondrous thing, even though the denuded foliage has never quite recovered. A major flaw of the enclosure is the lack of underwater viewing, although a zoo having a second otter species is never a bad thing.

    The second phase of the complex has a pair of Sloth Bear exhibits adjacent to each other but the enclosures are simply a refurbishing of the original 1950’s era grottoes. Sloth Bear exhibit #1 is the very same enclosure that has held Sloth Bears for decades, with the exhibit still practically devoid of grass and a fake-looking, rocky den has been constructed to best showcase a bear to the public. The climbing apparatus, consisting of several large wooden slabs, has been removed and glass viewing windows have been erected along the right-hand side of the exhibit. That has dramatically cut down on the viewing opportunities for the public, as instead of having a guard rail running along the entire outer wall there is now a fairly narrow viewing window with frosted panes that makes it difficult to see a bear if the creature is towards the back of the enclosure. Sloth Bear exhibit #2, which held Sun Bears for many years, is actually able to be joined to exhibit #1 and hasn’t been altered much from what it looked like more than half a century ago. Rock formations have been added, a lot of foliage and greenery has been eliminated, and massive viewing windows have been situated along one side of the exhibit. One could argue that the Sloth Bear complex is most definitely an improvement on what was originally there, but the improvement is very slight indeed and some folks might point out that the enclosures are overwhelmingly disappointing.

    The final installment of the Banyan Wilds complex, other than a Conservation Field House with viewing windows into the tiger exhibit and lots of tiger information plastered on the desks and walls, is the Malayan Tiger habitat that dominates the landscape. The zoo held Sumatran Tigers for decades but the return of the largest cat species in the world to the zoo has been a marketing dream come true as visitors young and old alike all jump at any opportunities to see tigers up close and personal. A trio of male tigers, brothers from Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas, are full of youthful energy and they make an enchanting exhibit on their own. Analyzing the enclosure itself, it is important to acknowledge that perception plays a part in the analysis. At hundreds of zoos around the world the new Malayan Tiger habitat in Seattle would be the best part of the zoo-going experience, a multi-million dollar bonanza of stripes and claws in a naturalistic landscape. However, Woodland Park has won numerous awards over the years for the quality of its animal exhibits and the tiger complex is simply good; even a little adequate and borderline mundane by the zoo’s high standards.

    The Malayan Tiger exhibit is adequate in terms of size but nothing that would set the heart racing. The frosted window panes are annoying; the mock-rock with its creeping banyan branches is impressive but also distracting; the mesh and obvious poles clash with the log-strewn, riverbank feel of the outer edge of the enclosure. Seeing a metal caged section (gates to the indoor housing?) is awkward; and the lack of underwater viewing for the pool is a missed opportunity. The new tiger exhibit is not terrible by any stretch of the imagination and the mixture of tall deciduous and conifer trees is an impressive backdrop (although all far outside the actual enclosure) but for a zoo as revered as Woodland Park the opening of a major exhibit has high expectations. To have $20 million in new investments at a world-renowned zoo and have the end result disappoint is a major letdown.
     
  2. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    Woodland Park Zoo..

    What species are in the aviary please?
     
  3. Falcosparverius

    Falcosparverius Well-Known Member

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    The frosted window panes will be especially irritating to those those trying to get good photographs, but I'm assuming that they decided to do the plant designs instead of the common random bird shapes for aesthetics. In addition, the glass is intended mainly for the "close-up" experience and connecting younger children to wildlife by providing better views, so the problems listed were probably secondary concerns. But by looking at the photographs, I feel the zoo could have created a better immersion experience, but instead they went for an interactive experience.
     
  4. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks for the review SL. :cool:

    I saw the first part of Banyan Wilds almost a year ago, and the aviary was nice (Nicobar Pigeon, Great Argus, Azure-winged Magpie) and the Otter exhibit very impressive (although lacking vegetation), and I had high hopes for the Tiger and Bear sections (the latter of which was still viewable in its old incarnation, and cerainly one of the worst parts of the Zoo). The new development seems to go against everything the Zoo is known for, and to spend $20 million and just get that seems insane.
     
  5. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    Seems rather a disappointing opening then!?

    Why did they not hold onto sun bear instead of sloth bear? It would have added value onto the Malayan tiger - small-clawed otter S.E. Asian theming ....?
     
  6. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    The zoo has had breeding success with sloth bears and the species was easily seen and popular for many years. The sun bears were notoriously difficult to spot in their densely planted exhibit, and I personally went perhaps 20 zoo visits with seeing the animals (with a clear view) on only a handful of occasions. The sun bears would frequently pace at the back of the grotto and I can recall reading a research paper a few years ago detailing how sun bears do not do well in cold-weather environments. The bears were sent to Virginia Zoo and other than San Diego the breeding success rate of sun bears in American zoos is very poor and practically non-existent.
     
  7. blospz

    blospz Well-Known Member

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    From looking at a few photos before the opening, I feared what you have written about the sloth bear exhibit. I know the final product never looks like the original drawing, but they made it look like they'd be in a lush forested exhibit. With so many sloth bear exhibits resembling grottoes I thought the zoo was going to be innovative with their exhibit. Well, I hope the zoo continues to have success with the breeding of these bears.

    As for the sun bears that used to be at the zoo, I think they are adjusting quite well at the Virginia Zoo. Both times I have been there in the past couple of years, they have been visible and active.
     
  8. Gulo gulo

    Gulo gulo Well-Known Member

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    Poor sloth bear grottoes fancied up with visitor glass and concrete blobs. Even if the plants grew in, this complex is a let down. Nothing of the caliber Woodland Park Zoo usually does. They hyped up new exhibits for the bears and the renderings were amazing. They took donor money and kept the “character" of the old exhibit walls. One tiger exhibit? Yikes. Add this newly finished in stages complex in the Heart Of The Zoo revamp and this area needs more than a defibrillator. Maybe it's good the elephants left. If they can spend tens of millions on this, maybe the elephants could've gotten their own church like the Indy Orangutans.
     
  9. Falcosparverius

    Falcosparverius Well-Known Member

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    I'm pretty sure there are two tiger exhibits, although only one is visible to the public. The links are include renderings of the original plans for the whole exhibit. Does anyone know if you can actually see the second exhibit (and if it was actually constructed)? And is there any information about the multi-purpose room and bear training? Or were these parts scrapped from the designs? $20 million is reasonably priced for construction of 6(?) exhibits, even though the zoo could do better, knowing what it has done previously.

    http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/AppDocs/GroupMeetings/DCPresentation1Tiger-Asian-Bear-Exhibit-Woodland-Park-ZooAgendaID3264.pdf
    http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/AppDocs/GroupMeetings/DCPresentation1Tiger-Asian-Bear-Exhibit-Woodland-Park-ZooAgendaID3419.pdf
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-WfFbt6rulyI/UP7jvvY1_yI/AAAAAAAAHLQ/hq75M3FtpcE/s1600/WPZ+Exhibit+Plan_Phase+1+and+2++9.7.12_stamp.jpg
     
  10. fkalltheway

    fkalltheway Well-Known Member

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    Frosted windows may become the new norm as AZA attempts to address the major issue of bird strikes on viewing windows. Millions of birds are killed each year by collisions with man-made structures; as AZA begins to focus more on sustainable building practices I feel like we should expect to see changes throughout the zoo community regarding the use, treatment, and placement of large viewing windows.
     
  11. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    That first link contains images of an Indian Giant Squirrel, Indian Hornbill, Chevrotain and Asian turtles...none of which are to be found in Banyan Wilds. The plans look dramatically different from the final product, but the link is now 4 years old and thus out of date. Nevertheless, thanks for re-posting it as it is interesting to see the conceptual drawings again.

    The second link has a clearly defined second tiger exhibit but if there is such a structure it is off-show to the public. Even those plans are outdated, as the two-page section on the Kids' Camp shows something that was never built.

    The third link again shows a second tiger exhibit, although off-view and rather small. The single tiger enclosure that is seen by the public does have a training wall for demonstrations, a Conservation Field House containing tiger-related displays, and numerous vantage points consisting of many viewing windows. The exhibit is not bad at all and by far the highlight of the new Banyan Wilds complex, but expectations were high and in that regard there is a slight level of disappointment. The Sloth Bear exhibits were hardly improved at all!