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Detroit Zoo Review

Discussion in 'United States' started by GraysonDP, 21 Dec 2016.

  1. GraysonDP

    GraysonDP Well-Known Member

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    Detroit Zoo Review

    Date of Visit: July 2010

    The Detroit Zoo is the second best zoo in the Midwest I have been to after Columbus and in my opinion one of the most underrated in the country. Not only is there the famous Arctic Ring of Life complex which includes the best polar bear exhibit in the nation but also several excellent habitats for a wide variety of species. The collection is not enormous but fairly representative and this zoo definitely chooses quality over quantity. It should be even better now that the Warchol Beaver Habitat, Wolf Wilderness and world-class Polk Penguin Center are open. The only knock on this zoo is it does not have a ton of cohesive themed exhibit complexes. Also, a lot of people in the zoo world became unhappy at Detroit when it made the decision to phase out elephants. Detroit definitely has strong values and opinions when it comes to animal husbandry and, while I do not agree with it on elephants, it definitely shows in the quality of exhibitry and animal care on the site.

    Excellent

    Arctic Ring of Life- The best polar bear exhibit around and one of the very best complexes in the world. Even during my visit on a hot summer day, parts of the exhibit actually looked like snow and ice and you really feel like you’re walking through the Arctic tundra. The amount of space for the bears is unprecedented and it is meticulously designed to address the welfare needs and natural behaviors of the animals. One part of the exhibit is filled with fake ice that looks amazingly slippery and natural and the icy backdrops are incredibly detailed and realistic. I’ve seen so much awful Arctic mock rock that I can definitely say this is a ground-breaking achievement. This part of the habitat is at a slight hilt and the bears have plenty of room to walk around and explore.

    The second part of the habitat is the water portion which has a breathtaking tunnel where visitors can see the polar bears swim above them. This is one of only two polar bear tunnels I know about (I have also seen Pittsburgh which while newer is substandard.) The pool is gargantuan and the water is quite clear. At times it really feels as if the water goes on forever on both sides. The last part of my habitat is my favorite- a huge grassy meadow. The exhibit recreates a tundra environment and does a brilliant job at it. The grass is quite naturalistic and has different lengths, which creates a nice texture. The rockwork looks very organic and doesn’t look fake at all. A smaller pool is found here where the polar bears can swim as well.

    I love how this exhibit showcases the variety of aspects to a polar bear’s habitat and puts so much thought into the details and characteristics needed to immerse the bears and visitors into its natural habitat. I also appreciate how it allows the bears to have their space and not constantly have to be at close proximity with guests. They have so many opportunities to swim and move around their lives are constantly enriched. Harbor seals have a nice immersive exhibit that can also be viewed through the tunnel and is at close proximity to the polar bears, making this the best predator/prey exhibit I have seen alongside the lion/savanna one at Columbus. Arctic foxes have a nice grassy exhibit as well. Arctic Ring of Life makes Detroit a must see for any zoo enthusiast by itself and is truly world class.

    Great Apes of Harambee- A set of enormous habitats where gorillas, chimpanzees and the rare drills rotate between. It is certainly one of the largest exhibit complexes of its type in the U.S. if not necessarily the most naturalistic or immersive. The three habitats are quite hilly and grassy creating a fairly open environment. However, there are plenty of deadfalls, rocks, enrichments and a few tall trees and termite mounds to provide enrichment for the apes. I appreciate the amount of enrichments and climbing opportunities the apes have even if it lacks the rainforest canopy of other top tier ape exhibits. For some reason, I feel this exhibit works better for the chimps than it does for the gorillas perhaps since I associate gorillas more with denser rainforest and this exhibit gives the chimps a good amount of opportunities to climb. I would probably say it’s a lock for a top 10 chimp exhibit in the nation and a top 15 gorilla exhibit.

    Red Panda Exhibit- One of the best red panda exhibits I’ve ever seen with tons of space and tall trees for them to climb. It is a hilly enclosure and has a rock formation in the middle. This is an excellent exhibit about how an older exhibit can be used to be excellent for its inhabitants.

    Australian Outback Adventure- The best kangaroo exhibit I’ve ever seen and the walkthrough portion works quite well. It is enormous and quite grassy. A few trees and several bushes provide good shade for the marsupials and this exhibit is better themed than most Australian habitats I have seen.

    Amphibville- An excellent amphibian house and probably one of if not the best in the country. Even worth visiting for those not that interested in amphibians.

    Holden Reptile Conservation Center- This herpetarium actually holds up quite well despite being fairly old and it holds a marvelous collection. Resides include reticulated python, dwarf caiman, Chinese alligator, Siamese crocodile, rattlesnake, green tree python, emerald monitor, king cobra, gilda monster and Sonoran black iguana.

    African Bird Habitat- A beautiful, enormous yard hosting species such as flamingos, vultures, pelicans, crowned cranes and saddle-biled storks.

    Hoofstock Yards- This is one of the very best zoos out there for traditional style hoofstock yards since these ones are enormous, themed appropriately by geographic region, have realistic rockwork and are decently naturalistic. Bactrian camels and fallow deer live in a large grassy yard with a forested backdrop which is the best I have seen for camels at any zoo and Preswalzki’s wild horses live nearby in a similar hilly habitat. Eland now live in an excellent large grassy exhibit with a detailed rock backdrop that on my visit had lesser kudu and warthogs have a spacious open habitat that brilliantly combines mud and grass and is probably one of the best I have seen.

    Zebras have a solid large grassy exhibit that has plenty of room for them to run around and giraffes live next door in a decently sized yard with an Egyptian style house in the background. The giraffe house is Egyptian in style as a tribute to the civilization that created zoos. Not the best giraffe exhibit I have seen but a good one nonetheless. While not exactly hoofstock, next to the giraffes is the best aardvark exhibit I have ever seen with ample run and digging opportunities. Bison live in an excellent very large yard that recreates an America Prairie and has a nice pond in the middle. Giant anteaters have a very nice exhibit with lots of vegetation, hiding opportunities and enrichments. Guanacos, flamingos and rheas have a huge pampas habitat with an enormous pool that once housed Brazilian tapirs as well.

    River Otter Habitat- A good but unremarkable habitat that blends in well with other otter exhibits across America.

    Bush Dog Exhibit- These small carnivores have a surprisingly spacious habitat with a decent amount of vegetation.

    Bald Eagle- Very nice exhibit.

    Prairie Dog- Immersive habitat that reminds me of the meerkat exhibit at the Nasvhille Zoo.

    Average

    White Rhinoceros Exhibit- The rhinos live in the former Asian elephant exhibit, which while too small and ordinary for elephants is good for the rhinos. It is fairly barren but has a nice wallow for them to cool down, a tree for shade, deadfalls and a decent amount of space.

    Cat Grottoes- The lion one has been expanded and renovated since my visit and now appears to be decent. However, the tiger grotto is small and subpar in the modern day zoo world. However, it is elevated above other grottos by being larger, more naturalistic and having more realism rockwork than most grottoes.

    Wolverine Habitat- These carnivores live in a grotto that’s larger than most.

    Poor

    Macaque Exhibit- An outdated island for these primates is short on both space and naturalism.

    Bear Grottoes- Grizzly bears and black bears live in grottos that are much too small in the modern day zoo world. At least they have natural substrate and more vegetation than typical grottoes but they should really be gone by now.

    Penguinarium- This was a subpar penguin exhibit when I visited but has been replaced by Polk Penguin Center- which appears to be amazing. Has anyone been and seen it?

    Probably no zoo has taken me by surprise as much as Detroit since I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and think it’s one of the best zoos in the nation. Not many people talk about it as world class but it definitely is. I would estimate I would rank Detroit anywhere from 12 to 18 on a list of best zoos in the country.
     
  2. cliffxdavis

    cliffxdavis Well-Known Member

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    Are you going to post any up to date photos of the enclosures you have described? The pics in the media forum are either close ups of animals and could be anywhere or 2-3 years old
     
  3. GraysonDP

    GraysonDP Well-Known Member

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    Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from my visit and it was a couple of years ago.
     
  4. cliffxdavis

    cliffxdavis Well-Known Member

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    Oh sorry I can see it was a 2010 visit now. Perhaps someone reading this before going can update the photos in 2017
     
  5. Alex Bensky

    Alex Bensky Active Member

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    The penguinarium has been replaced by a spectacular penguin house; I have linked to pictures elsewhere. The tiger exhibit received a grant, announced yesterday, and will be expended and upgraded, and it was recently announced that the giraffe house will be expanded to provide more room indoors; during some of Detroit's winters it's dangerous for them to be outdoors.

    They've done some nice smaller scale work--a new wolf exhibit costing about $2 million, the lion exhibit has also been expended and includes a nice little touch; lions do well outdoors in Michigan in the winter and there are some heated rocks near the front so visitors can easily seem them on cold days.
     
  6. Miss Gulch

    Miss Gulch Member

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    I try to visit the Detroit Zoo several times a month. I'd be more than happy to take pictures of the enclosures and post them here the next time I visit. I hope to get there again next week if the weather is decent.

    There's been construction going on in the giraffe exhibit since August when the new giraffe was born. The Rainforest Immersion Gallery in the amphibian building is now closed for renovations and I've heard that the old penguinarium will be renovated to house a bat exhibit. Also, a docent told me they have plans to expand the wolverine habitat, though the plans have now been delayed since the death of the older wolverine earlier this past summer.

    This is an artist's drawing of the planned new tiger exhibit from the Zoo's Facebook page:

    [​IMG]

    Diane
     
  7. Miss Gulch

    Miss Gulch Member

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    Looks like I won't get to the zoo for another week or so, but I've just posted a large number of photos from this past summer. I hope they add to GraysonDP's wonderfully descriptive review.
     
  8. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I agree with almost everything in the review and I too am a big fan of Detroit Zoo. I've now visited close to 300 zoos just in the United States and I'd place Detroit in the top 15. With the addition of the Wolf Habitat and Penguin Conservation Center the zoo has made great strides in recent years, and with upcoming revamps of the tiger enclosure and old Penguinarium (into a Bat Conservation Center) the zoo will become even better. I actually think that other than the 1920's-era bear grottoes the entire zoo is fairly impressive and complexes like Arctic Ring of Life, Amphibiville and the new Penguinarium are amongst the best of their kind.

    @Miss Gulch: thanks so much for the comprehensive assortment of photos you recently uploaded into the gallery. Great work!
     
  9. Miss Gulch

    Miss Gulch Member

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    Thanks, snowleopard, and you're welcome. I look forward to adding more as I can. It will give me something else to photograph there.
     
  10. Miss Gulch

    Miss Gulch Member

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    I've just uploaded a number of pictures to the gallery from my visit this week. I still have more to add and hope to finish in the next few days.
     
  11. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Thanks very much for all of the photos of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center. :)
     
  12. Miss Gulch

    Miss Gulch Member

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    You're very welcome!
     
  13. Alex Bensky

    Alex Bensky Active Member

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  14. Alex Bensky

    Alex Bensky Active Member

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    I apologize in my earlier post for writing "expended" when I meant "expanded." I'm sure I had something in mind but I can't think what.

    For those interested, what they're doing with the tiger exhibit is basically what they did with the lions; they're erecting tall glass fences around the exhibit and then filling in the moat and reworking the landscape. We do need a breeding pair but I don't know how likely that is.

    I'm a native Detroiter and I love the zoo but of Midwestern zoos I'd have to put Brookfield, Cincinnati, and Columbus above ours. But that's no cause for shame. The zoo seems to be staying within its means and taking good care of the animals and it's a fine zoo. The bear dens could use some improvement.

    As I mentioned on another thread, I think, they are going to turn the former penguinarium into a bat conservation center but so far I cannot find any details. I'll post when I get some.

    Miss Gulch, we ought to try to get a local Zoo Chat meetup going at the zoo one of these days.
     
  15. GraysonDP

    GraysonDP Well-Known Member

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    Interesting you put Brookfield and Cincinnati above Detroit as I find Detroit's level of exhibitry to be superior (I've been to all of them.) Sure it doesn't have as large of a collection and doesn't have a relentless amount of exhibits but besides the bear grottoes almost all the exhibits are above average and many of them are state-of-the-art. My main problem with the zoo is the way its decision regarding to elephants feeded the extreme elephant activists and created the impression keeping elephants in zoos is bad but other than that I really love the Detroit Zoo and would probably place it in my top 15 zoos in the country.
     
    Alex Bensky and snowleopard like this.
  16. Alex Bensky

    Alex Bensky Active Member

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    I was sorry about the elephants and yes, it did feed the extreme activists, but the director's points, I think, were valid...in any case, I respect him greatly and I'd generally defer to his judgment. Problem was that we simply didn't have adequate room for them, especially since most Michigan winters keep them indoors much of the time.

    Ranking the others above ours is not a criticism. I'd say yes, of US comprehensive zoos Detroit is clearly in the top fifteen and we have some notable exhibits. Amphibville even got me interested in amphibians, at least to some extent. The original tax proposal for the three county area that helped stabilize the zoo's finances was passed again recently.

    We also have the Toledo Zoo about an hour and a half south and it's well worth a visit for anyone who happens to be in the area.
     
  17. GraysonDP

    GraysonDP Well-Known Member

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    Isn't the zoo over 100 acres though, much larger than many zoos that have kept elephants? And besides that decision I really like Ron Kagan a lot. Does he believe that no zoo should keep elephants or did he make the decision just that it wasn't right for his zoo? One thing is for sure- the zoo would have a lot less hoofstock paddocks if it kept elephants.
     
  18. natel12

    natel12 Well-Known Member

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    I've been recently researching about the Detroit zoo and I've been curious about the gorilla and drill exhibit. From what I know gorillas (especially silverbacks) can be extremely territorial and it would be possible that they could feel like they are being threatened and attack so does anyone know why the exhibit is being shared?
     
  19. natel12

    natel12 Well-Known Member

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    Honestly I want to congratulate you on the near 3000 zoos you have visited while I have been to only four hahaha so that is quite impressive
     
  20. Alex Bensky

    Alex Bensky Active Member

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    As far as I know Kagan is not against keeping elephants at all but I think his point was well-taken--we simply didn't have enough room for them and given the zoo's layout, expanding the exhibit wasn't feasible.

    I thought Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle) had sufficient room for elephants but I see they're no longer keeping them. Given that it's Seattle, there's a possibility that politics and animal rights advocates did have a hand in that, but I don't know. Does anybody?