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My First US Zoo Trip

Discussion in 'United States' started by DevinL, 7 May 2018.

  1. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

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    Introduction

    Years ago, when I was still in high-school, a couple of my friends managed to get onto my home computer. In several swift strokes they typed different letters one by one replacing the other into my address bar. They were trying to uncover what websites I had been visiting. I was perturbed by this intrusion, but before I could stop them the results were popping up.
    Each letter typed into the address bar gave a different North American zoo website address: Audubon Nature Institute for a; San Diego Zoo for s; and Denver Zoo for d. My friends were shocked and kept on typing different letters. H for Houston Zoo, j for Jacksonville Zoo, k for Kansas City Zoo. A zoo website address popped up for almost every letter typed into the address bar.
    I tried downplaying it, but I couldn’t fool anyone. I was obsessed about zoos and my friends knew it.

    Before the age of six I had seen the San Diego Zoo and Busch Gardens. For the rest of my adolescence though the only AZA facility I got to visit was the regional Calgary Zoo. My family didn’t travel far. I dreamed about seeing some of my favorite American zoos, but I would have to settle for visiting their websites and reading about them in The Zoo Book by Allen Nyhuis.

    When I was a University student I saw a handful of AZA aquariums, and when I moved out east I finally got to visit the Toronto Zoo and became a member. On a family trip to central Florida I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Since then, I’ve also visited some great zoos outside of North America. Zoos were important parts of those trips, but they had never been the primary driver of my travel itinerary.

    This April (2018), that changed when I organized a 17-day solo trip through the Western US. My goal was to see some of the American zoos that I’ve been dreaming about visiting for so many years. I ended up visiting a total of 10 AZA accredited zoos (including the Calgary Zoo), 1 AZA aquarium, 4 gardens, a natural history museum, and several natural sites. I have done some long-distance work as a zoo designer and visiting my employer was also a significant part of my plans.

    I do not have a personal vehicle and decided to use a combination of alternative travel means for this trip. To get between cities I mostly used Greyhound bus services. Three flights covered longer stretches between cities. I used public transportation in all 11 metropolises I visited and sometimes walked long distances within cities to reach my destinations. It was a bit of an adventure, so my posts will also recount my travels to each destination as well as my experiences at those destinations.

    There will be 17 posts covering roughly one day each for all 17 days of the trip, plus one post for the final travel leg home, and one other post to cover a trip shortly thereafter to the Calgary Zoo.

    I will not reveal my full itinerary until after I post about the last day because I leave a bit of flexibility in my travel plans, and well, it would be more difficult to reach some of my destinations than I imagined.
     
  2. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    Sounds great - look forward to reading it.
     
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  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I'm excited to read your upcoming posts!
     
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  4. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

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    Location:
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    Part 1 – Last Winter’s Day

    It had been a long, cold winter, but when I woke up in mid-April to a light snow storm I didn’t feel weary. I was about to embark on a 17-day trip south through the Western US! It would be warmer further south, and hopefully when I got back home the temperatures would be higher and more bearable. I was likely experiencing the last snow and cold temperatures that I would have to endure until fall. It felt like I could celebrate the end of winter -even if I was still in the last throes of it.

    I was feeling ebullient and that carried over when I arrived at the bus stop and learnt that my Greyhound bus to Calgary would be late. A big rock-slide in BC had forced the bus to make a significant detour. That just gave me some time to go back and grab my scarf and some breakfast though. Thankfully, I got my breakfast to go. The bus arrived just moments before I got back to the station and at least half an hour before the late arrival time that the Greyhound customer service representative had provided. If I had arrived back later then they would have left without me.

    In Calgary, I had to pick up my renewed passport and do some other tasks, but I accomplished them quickly. There is a Light Rail Transit stop right at the main entrance to the Calgary Zoo, which made it easy for me to squeeze in a quick visit.

    The Calgary Zoo

    I have lived in a few places throughout my life, but I have always considered the Calgary Zoo my hometown zoo. I have so many fond memories there.

    I purposefully bookended my US zoo trip with visits to the Calgary Zoo because I thought it would be interesting to see how my views of the Zoo changed after viewing and comparing it to other good North American zoos. The Calgary Zoo is rarely in Zoochat lists of the top 50 zoos in North America. Could I still enjoy the Calgary Zoo as much after seeing other zoos that are routinely described as better than my hometown zoo?

    After descending from the LRT platform, I was right at the main ticketing booths for the Calgary Zoo at the North entrance. The main ticketing area is a large underground space flanked by tunnels that lead to the Zoo and parking lot. The smooth concrete tunnel walls are recessed to exposed aggregate in lightly abstracted forms of animals and fossils. Sleek slate floor tiles and colorful spot lights are more contemporary design additions. The tunnel opens directly into the Zoo site and there is a great sense of arrival and release. The entrance experience always hypes me up for my visit to the Calgary Zoo.

    The giftshop is adjacent to the Zoo site entrance. It sells a lot of crafts made by people participating in the Zoo’s community conservation projects, as well as souvenirs and more traditional zoo giftshop items. I bought a Snow Leopard Trust thermos for my trip.

    From there it was just a short walk to Penguin Plunge. I always have a great experience at Penguin Plunge and this visit was no exception. Just steps into the indoor animal exhibit I was within inches of some rock-hopper penguins. With their colorful head crests, they look like penguin rock-stars. To the right I watched some Gentoo penguins dive underwater. A large group of schoolchildren showed up. They brought leaves and cut-out fish images to the underwater viewing windows. Some of the penguins are quite playful and eagerly chased the leaves and cut-out fish as the children moved them around. It was fun to watch, but the penguins wouldn’t follow my new snowleopard thermos! I suspect that the children were part of a school-group. These types of interactions with the animals would be great learning opportunities for students. They get to test what things the penguins are attracted to and then relate that back to penguin foraging biology.

    [​IMG]

    The design of Penguin Plunge helps facilitate these kinds of interactions with the penguins. It’s designed like a penguin walk-through. The visitor path cuts through the penguin exhibit, but there are underwater passages for penguins below the pathway that connect both halves of the animal exhibit. You feel surrounded by the animals. The ceiling is curved to provide visual flow and continuity, so your eyes travel around the exhibit. The underwater viewing panels are a great height to watch swimming penguins, and don’t obstruct open views of the penguins on the land areas beyond. You share the same cooled air as the penguins and I have even been splashed by them several times! The design features of the exhibit really help you feel like the penguins are sharing space with you.

    Other features of the exhibit have been thoughtfully considered to improve animal welfare and facilitate penguin behaviors. Large portions of the land area have a pebble substrate that’s much better than gunite flooring for protecting the penguins from bumblefoot infections. The penguins like to collect the pebbles for their nests and even steal from one another! The underwater passages help the penguins swim in more continuous patterns and I’ve seen them gather speed and porpoise in this exhibit.

    These features, together with the nice mix of species (Humboldt, rockhopper, king and Gentoo penguins), ensure that this exhibit has a high level of animal activity. Penguin Plunge really is an exceptional exhibit, and it is extremely popular with visitors.

    After the penguins, I skipped the large outdoor Canadian Wilds section of the Zoo and the seasonally closed Prehistoric Park for the warmer indoor exhibits in Destination Africa. I only had a light pleather jacket on this trip and the zipper would not close anymore- that’s my excuse anyways.

    Destination Africa is the most ambitious development ever at the Calgary Zoo. The $32.5 M development opened in 2003, covers six acres and includes the Transalta Rainforest exhibit complex (over 30,000 square foot building footprint plus outdoor exhibits), the African Savannah exhibit complex (over 20,000 square foot building footprint plus outdoor exhibits), the Kitamba Café (a large food services facility with an attached volunteer center), and Safari Lodge (a 350-person banquet facility). Destination Africa houses almost all the tropical animals at the Calgary Zoo, so it is a significant part of the visitor experience, especially for guests who aren’t adequately prepared for the weather!

    The two exhibit complexes in Destination Africa were supposed to create immersive exhibits for the animals inspired by the animal’s natural habitats (rainforest and savannah). In Destination Africa the buildings are so large and prominent that they dominant attempts to create habitat landscapes for the animals.

    The architectural design still has some merits though. The African Savannah building feels open inside (like a savannah) and the animal exhibits are layered. This creates a sense of excitement and impressions of mixed species exhibits, even though the animals are in separate spaces.

    When I entered the exhibit hall this day I paused and saw: red river hogs rummaging through mulch to my lower right; giraffes and hippos moving around in the distance; and rock hyrax leaping around to my left. As I moved further down the path most of the meerkats were busy digging while a sentry kept watch atop a log. There were a couple of keepers in the reptile exhibit feeding the round-nosed plated lizards and Egyptian tortoise. The hippos were in their pool and I watched them through the underwater viewing windows as the plump pachyderms delicately pranced underwater. They came ashore and over to a zookeeper and opened their mouths widely to the wonderment of some behind-the scenes guests and other zoo visitors. Later, another zookeeper did some target training with the hippos while a curious giraffe leaned over the keeper’s shoulder.

    [​IMG]

    As these memories illustrate, the African Savannah can provide a wealth of visitor experiences. The design is less successful at creating natural exhibits. Despite the great enrichment and training efforts by the zookeepers there are also some limitations of the animal spaces that may not meet higher zoological standards in the future. For example, the hippo space is limited and prevents the Zoo from holding more than two adult hippos at a time. Hippos are a social species, and I predict that zoos will hold them in larger groups in the future. Disney’s Animal Kingdom has a large group of hippos (they also exhibit a pair separately) and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is building Making Waves to accommodate multiple adult hippos (three adults and their offspring). River hippos are an important species for the Calgary Zoo because of their award-winning Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary community conservation project, so they would probably like to continue displaying them. In the future, it will be a challenge to both preserve the great animal experiences at the African Savannah and improve animal welfare.

    The TransAlta Rainforest is another important destination for visitors. On my visit, I stopped to look at: colorful cichlid fish in their simulated bank tanks; snakes in their glass-fronted exhibit set under an artificial nurse log; panther chameleons in their large planted glass fronted exhibit with leopard tortoise underneath; tropical trees planted along the meandering pathway; West African dwarf crocodiles in their pool with overhanging planters; and mandrills in a less themed exhibit. The real stars though were the gorillas.

    Little two-year old gorilla Kimani was lounging with her mother Kioja on a stretched-out tarp. Kimani’s aunt (Dossi) snuck up from behind and playfully grabbed Kimani before quickly retreating behind the tarp. They played like that for awhile before Kioja and Kimani climbed off to do some foraging. Meanwhile, Dossi climbed up an artificial tree to scan her surroundings. It’s fascinating to watch how closely bonded gorillas are and how they interact intelligently with objects in their environment.

    [​IMG]

    To keep the gorillas stimulated their enclosure has a lot of hooks for attaching fire hoses and other enrichment. Exhibit furniture is changed daily, and the space feels a little different each time I visit.

    A lot of the enrichment doesn’t look natural, but the exhibit itself was designed to simulate natural gorilla habitat. Most of the exhibit represents lowland gorilla rainforest habitat, while the artificial rock backdrop represents mountain gorilla habitat. I don’t think natural mountain gorilla habitat looks very rocky, but that’s how the exhibit spaces are labelled on the site plan in the ranger cabin. The exhibit was designed to be a bit lusher, but a large tree in the middle of the exhibit died and the vegetation in the background is a little sparse. There’s too much hardscape here and not enough softscape. The exhibit falls short of immersing you in a rainforest, and the enrichment can be incongruous with the attempts at immersion, but I would still prefer this exhibit over one without sufficient enrichment or an exhibit that made no attempts at naturalism.

    Past the gorillas, the indoor walk-through aviary also looks a bit artificial in places, but at least here there are several large fig trees that the animals have access to. Taveta weavers are interesting to watch, but they have shredded a lot of plants in the aviary and are partially responsible for it not feeling lusher. Other aviary residents include: African spoonbills, southern bald ibis, hadada ibis, hamerkop, golden-breasted starlings, spur-winged lapwings, helmeted guineafowl, marbled teal, Hottentot teal, white-faced whistling ducks, and East African mud turtles.

    I was feeling hungry after watching the birds, including some Chilean flamingos outside, so I ordered some food from Kitamba Café. The Calgary Zoo has implemented several green practices at their facilities to reduce waste, including using compostable food containers together with compost receptacles. There are signs all over Kitamba Café boasting that they have successfully reduced waste by over 50% in one year. I applaud these efforts. It’s great to see the Zoo taking initiatives to be more sustainable and being more consistent with their messages both within and outside exhibit areas.

    Feeling refueled, I visited the Enmax Conservatory. Like Destination Africa, this complex suffers a bit from architectural dominance. The middle foyer is too big for the small renewable energy displays inside, and the focal point of the foyer, an artificial tree with epiphytes, isn’t big or dramatic enough for the space.

    The foyer is new, but it is connected to a large, renovated glass greenhouse. Thankfully, this space is a much better showcase for plants. It has been re-designed as an ethnobotanical display. I love plants and this greenhouse, but I can’t help but feel that the space misses the birds that lived here before the renovations. They added movement and sound to the gardens. I also miss the arid greenhouse and dense cloud forest greenhouse.

    Those greenhouses were lost in favour of an enlarged seasonal display and butterfly greenhouse. The layout of this greenhouse is a bit formal and symmetrical, which is a good fit for flowering displays, but less so for butterflies. I think it somewhat relegates the butterflies to beautiful adornments, instead of a more natural display that could have showcased the interdependence of plants and lepidopterans.

    The Enmax Conservatory is a great escape from the cold winters in Calgary and I often sit at home longing to visit the greenhouses.

    For a while I just watched the falling snow outside framed by the greenery from within the Conservatory.

    [​IMG]

    I wanted to see more animals though, so I headed outside to visit the Eurasian exhibits (Panda Passage was still closed to all visitors). The animals In Eurasia were much less fazed by the weather than me. The Japanese macaques were walking through the fresh snow with their reddened faces contrasting with the whitened landscape. The snow leopards were also active, but the red pandas were sleeping as the snow fell around them. I watched the Amur tigers prowl through the snow, but I was getting cold and I still had some things to do in Calgary. It was time to leave the Zoo. I would get the chance to see many more animals on my zoo trip and I would be returning soon to the Calgary Zoo!

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: 8 May 2018
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  5. BigNate

    BigNate Well-Known Member

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    Wow, you were really close to that hippo, is that a regular viewing area?
     
  6. lintworm

    lintworm Moderator Staff Member Premium Member

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    Kudos to doing all on public transport without a car. This is also the way I visit zoos in Europe, but that is arguably a lot easier ;).
     
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  7. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    Kudus manage to do all without a car or public transport.
     
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  8. TZDugong

    TZDugong Well-Known Member

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    Great review! I find it incredible that you did this trip by public transport, as I couldn’t dream of doing that in North America (Europe is easier).

    One little thing, I’m fairly certain that Calgary is a top 50 zoo in North America, but I bet you visited much better ones on this trip.:)
     
  9. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I visited Calgary Zoo last year for my second time, and I rank it at #23 of the 73 zoological facilities I have visited. Thank you for the detail-filled trip report so far!
     
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  10. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

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    Part 3 – In Search of Whales

    My US trip was organized around visiting American zoos, but in the days leading up to my departure I spent more time talking about killer whale watching in Vancouver. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen wild whales. If I have it would have been when I was very young. I really enjoyed the wild dolphin cruise I went on years ago from the Florida Aquarium. Hopefully, whale watching out of Vancouver could top that experience!

    I still had to get to Vancouver though and I was in land—locked snowy Calgary. I also still wasn’t completely prepared for my trip. At the mall I bought a new pair of shoes and gleefully threw out the pair that I had been wearing. My old shoes had been up mountains and to the other side of the world, and they were looking terribly tattered from their travels. I wanted to buy a backpack for my trip, but I couldn’t find a decent one, so my luggage case would have to do. Time was running out. I hopped on a train to the bus station for my long Greyhound ride to Vancouver.

    It wouldn’t just be a long ride, but also an overnight one. The bus was scheduled to leave Calgary at 6:45 pm and not arrive in Vancouver until 9:10 am (8:10 local) the next morning. I settled in and fell into a nice nap rather quickly. It would not be as easy for me to get a good night’s sleep. I woke up repeatedly that night and struggled to fall back asleep. Counting bighorn sheep, clearing my mind, and dreaming about whales didn’t seem to help. I should have imagined myself sitting in a University lecture hall. During lectures my head would often nod dramatically as I drifted into sleep. Somehow, I was still a very good student and my professors generally liked me. Anyways, the bus finally got to Vancouver.

    I was still feeling drowsy as I exited the bus station. There was a woman just outside. She was saying, “Mr. Chan, please” over and over, or so I initially thought. Really though, she was saying, “may I have change, please”. Usually I don’t oblige such requests, but I did this time. When I did, I really noticed just how desperate she was. After receiving some coins, she thanked me and said that no-one had given her change in two days, and that she was hungry and wanted a fast-food burger. I believed her. There was so much relief and emotion in her voice.

    My budget was tight for this trip, and it was early in the morning, so I decided to use public transport and then walk to the whale watching office. My walk down Granville Street was pleasant, but the walk across Granville bridge less so. The later involved almost 1km of walking alongside a forbiddingly busy highway. I was exposed to pelting rain and strong gusts of wind that repeatedly inverted my umbrella in a pop. I was dragging my luggage case behind me, with a cheap tote bag haphazardly on top and tied to the extended case handle. Looking down at False Creek below, I imagined the waters connecting to the bay beyond and past that, waters with killer whales. With persistence I made it to the whale watching office.

    When I pushed open the door into the office I felt victorious. I said hello, provided my name, and proclaimed that I was there for the whale watching tour I had booked online. Their reply jolted me. “We tried calling you. All the whale watching tours have been cancelled today because of unsafe weather conditions”.

    I would see no whales that day or on this trip, but I wasn’t going to waste a day in Vancouver. My fall-back attraction was the VanDusen Botanical Gardens. The whale watching tour staff recommended Bloedel Conservatory.

    Bloedel Conservatory

    Bloedel Conservatory is a heritage geodesic domed structure perched atop Queen Elizabeth Park, on the City of Vancouver’s highest point. The Park has scenic sunken plantings and what I imagine are great views when the city isn’t shrouded in fog. There’s a beautiful waterfall that tumbles down the quarried hillside. Inside the Conservatory there are tropical plants and free—flying tropical birds.


    When I walked into the Conservatory my glasses and camera fogged up and everything felt a bit blurry. As I adjusted, I could hear melodious calls and caught the movement of birds in the distance. This really adds a nice dimension to the Conservatory and it made me remember once again how much I miss the birds in the Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo.

    Walking through the Conservatory, I got close to a lot of free-flying birds including a lineolated parakeet. Guests were thrilled by similar encounters. Less impressive were the several large psittacine (parrot) species basically confined to a few connected branches, although they are all rescues that needed a good home.


    The winding pathway takes you under the canopy of medium sized tropical trees, past water features, and by ornamental understory plantings. The dome architecture is a great backdrop for the plantings that doesn’t over power them. Many of the plants have colorful leaves and flowers and strong foliage textures. It has been designed to look like a well-maintained tropical garden and not a natural rainforest.


    This is a conservatory and not a botanical garden, so the plants are not very botanically notable. Many of the plants could probably be purchased at your local garden center for your home.

    Likewise, the bird selection features many species that are very common to aviculture and could easily be acquired by hobbyists. There are a lot of Estrildidae finch-type birds and small psittacines. Please read Geomorph’s thread for a full species list. Visitors still seemed to find the birds very appealing though and likely weren’t too concerned about how common they were.

    Bloedel Conservatory isn’t a world-class attraction, but it’s not trying to be one. Compared to many large city zoos the Bloedel Conservatory is more like an exhibit complex than an independent attraction. The Enmax Conservatory at the Calgary Zoo is a bigger overall facility, although the total planted space at both facilities is very similar. The Bloedel Conservatory is a pretty, small, well-maintained indoor garden enlivened by lots of colorful birds.

    The VanDusen Botanical Gardens, my next destination, was just a kilometer walk away.

    VanDusen Botanical Gardens

    The VanDusen Botanical Gardens is a much more botanically significant site. They have over 7,500 plant species and varieties on over 55 acres!

    The gardens are anchored by the award-winning Visitor Centre. The building has a radiating form inspired by the shapes of native orchid flowers. From the curved rammed earth and concrete walls, the roof undulates to a central thermal chimney, which ventilates the space. The building is net-zero water and net-zero energy and a showcase of sustainable design. In places the building seems to grow from the landscape. It is iconic, but not architecturally dominant.

    After dropping off my luggage at the Visitor Centre, I walked along a network of lakes with natural outlines. A pathway called the grotto caught my eye. Large basaltic rocks frame the sides of the grotto and horizontal conifer branches (mostly yews) form a vegetated ceiling. Plants seem to grow out of the boulders. On the other side, the landscape opened to swaths of blooming heathers and a continuation of the lake network seen earlier.


    I turned away from the lakes and through the Sino-Himalayan gardens. Rhododendrons are one of my favorite groups of plants, so I was excited to see this area. There were lots of Rhododendrons and Magnolia trees in full flower. The vegetation covers the hillsides and you feel enveloped. I came back later and probably spent a total of at least three hours in the Sino-Himalayan gardens.


    Around the rest of the grounds there were blooming Cyclamens, Trilliums, and Helleborus. Nothing that could top the Rhododendrons for me though!

    I know that most people on ZooChat are much more interested in zoos than gardens, but if you’re in the Vancouver area I recommend a visit to the VanDusen Botanical Gardens!

    Watching wild killer whales would have been an incredible experience. Hopefully, I will get a better shot at it the next time that I’m in the Vancouver area. On this day though, the VanDusen Gardens and Bloedel Conservatory were good fallback destinations.
     
    Last edited: 9 May 2018
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  11. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    When I was in Vancouver last July I did the same itinerary! I toured the Bloedel Conservatory and then walked to the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, and enjoyed both...although rhododendrons were no longer in bloom.
     
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  12. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

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    Yes, that picture was taken from a regular viewing area. You can get really close to the hippos and there are signs warning that you might get sprayed by hippo feces! The people you can see in the photo are behind-the-scenes.
     
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  13. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

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    Part 3 – Seattle Beckons

    I could have stayed in Vancouver longer, but I had a lot of places to see in the United States, including a three day stay in Seattle that I was very excited about. Before my trip south of the 49th parallel though I needed to go downtown and replace my lost phone charger.

    The Vancouver city bus trip downtown was an unexpected experience. The bus driver was so jovial and outgoing. He made a lot of jokes that were uninspired, but they were delivered with such panache that he had half the passengers laughing out loud. When some older passengers inquired about senior’s fare he teasingly said, “we’ll have to make a detour to the police station because you look much too young to be asking for a senior’s ticket”! It was his last day on that job but judging by the rapport and history he seemed to have with many of the passengers, that day wasn’t an outlier, but his normal attitude.

    With my new phone equipment, I took another train to reach the Greyhound station for an evening ride to Seattle. By the time I reached Seattle it was past 10 pm, and I was feeling exhausted.

    I took a taxi to my hotel. The driver swiped my credit card multiple times with a couple different devices before the payment was finally processed. This put me on edge. Based on future incidents that were probably related to this I had good cause to be stressed.


    I was relieved when I got to my hotel room. In the shower I felt sharp pain and realized that my heels and one of my toes were bleeding from abrasions. The new shoes I had bought in Calgary were not as good of a fit as I had assumed. Thankfully, I had brought a back up pair of shoes.

    The next day was less taxing. I slept in and walked to the nearby Museum of Pop Culture where I had a delectable early lunch. I considered visiting the Museum but was much more interested in the Chihuly Garden and Glass.


    Chihuly Garden and Glass


    The Chihuly Garden and Glass is one of the premier attractions in Seattle. It’s a comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the blown glass artwork of Dale Chihuly.

    Dale Chihuly is famous for the organic appearance of his glasswork created by letting gravity and centrifugal forces shape molten glass. He focuses much less on isolated individual pieces than on installations composed of many pieces in dialogue with one another and architectural spaces.

    These relationships are particularly evident at the Chihuly Garden and Glass because the architectural spaces were designed together with the artwork.

    Visitors first past through eight galleries. Each gallery is minimal with the limited lighting strategically used to illuminate the glass artwork. In the Persian Ceiling gallery, glass pieces rest just atop a lower glass ceiling. Light from above passes through the colorful glass pieces to cast the hall in complex patterns of light and color. In another gallery, the glass pieces are arranged architecturally almost like an allee to create an avenue to a towering focal piece. Elsewhere, there are clusters of blown glass hanging from the ceiling like chandeliers.


    Experiencing these darkened galleries intensifies the drama and lightness in the showpiece Glasshouse. The Glasshouse is an open glass structure inspired by conservatories. A 100-foot long suspended installation looks like a flowing strand of yellow, amber, and red flowers. From within the Glasshouse, you can see the gardens and installations outside.

    The gardens feature plants with strong colors and forms that harmonize and contrast with the glass installations. Columnar installations mimic the form of surrounding evergreen trees but their bright red color contrasts with the rich green of the conifer’s foliage. Smoky purple glass rods rise from clusters of Mahonia with glaucous blue leaves. Arisaema plants grow around strikingly similar purple-black glass rods with arched-over tops. It felt like everywhere I looked there was a stunning photographic composition!


    I’ve seen Dale Chihuly’s work before, but never in a garden, so I particularly enjoyed the outdoor spaces at Chihuly Garden and Glass. There is great interplay between the plants and glass artwork and you really notice how Chihuly was inspired by flowers and gardens.

    Even if you don’t typically go to art museums on vacation, I would recommend a trip to the Chihuly Garden and Glass. It was one of the highlights of my trip through the United States!

    From there, I walked briskly to Seattle’s waterfront and the Seattle Aquarium on Pier 59.

    Seattle Aquarium

    The Seattle Aquarium specializes in displaying and interpreting the marine life of the Puget Sound region, although there are also some tropical Pacific displays. Some of the exhibits have remained relatively unchanged since the Aquarium opened in 1977, while others were part of a 2007 expansion.

    Visitors are greeted in the exhibit halls by Window on Washington Waters, one of the expansion projects. A 20-foot-tall, 40-foot long window is set in the 120,000-gallon aquarium where hundreds of native fish and invertebrates can be seen. The window cantilevers gradually above you to create a more immersive effect. Artificial waves surge through the exhibit and pound the artificial rockwork. On the side there’s another view into the exhibit that’s more framed by the artificial rockwork. This exhibit is a dramatic showcase of the rich marine life of Neah Bay in the Puget Sound region, although there are some problems with glare.

    On my visit there was a scuba diver in the exhibit. Interpreters relayed questions from visitors to the divers and the diver’s responses could be heard over a microphone. The interaction helped the audience become more engaged with the exhibit.

    Crashing Waves is a much smaller exhibit, but it still very memorable. The artificial waves here are much more noticeable as they crash along the long exhibit at about eye level. There are lots of fish, and colorful starfish and anemones either clinging to the rocks or being rocked by the currents. Unfortunately, the glare is quite noticeable and partially obstructs the underwater views.

    After Crashing Waves, the hall opens significantly to the most interactive area of the Aquarium. The hall has several artificial tidepools stocked with invertebrates that visitors can touch. I touched an urchin and was surprised how the spines seemed to part and then close around my finger. It’s easy to forget that urchins move. I walked under an arch of jellyfish that extends under the floor. I suppose it helps you see them from different angles, but the novelty probably wears off quickly for repeat visitors. There was an octopus feeding, but the floor is flat, and I struggled on my tippy toes to try to get a tiny view. The octopus exhibit has two tanks with a smaller tube passing between them. It’s a good idea that helps showcase how the octopus can travel through tight spaces, like those between rocks.

    The next two areas, Pacific Coral Reef and Tropical Pacific, house all the Aquarium’s animals not native to the Puget Sound region. The visitor hallways in the Pacific Coral Reef have rockwork on the ceiling and walls which creates a nice sense of moving through a reef and darkens the space to prevent glare on the viewing windows. There are some beautiful displays of living coral and other invertebrates. Some visitors might complain about the lack of sharks or big aquariums in this section, but I would prefer to see living coral.


    Sheltered paths lead out of the exhibit building and continue through the outdoor animal exhibits. Here there are some beautifully crafted exhibits for birds and anemones. I saw oystercatchers and killdeer hiding under rock ledges from the rain and tufted puffins and common murres. You can watch the alcids dive underwater. The bird exhibits seem small, but perhaps they are rescues. From here the path descends gradually. At one point, salmon can be viewed directly above the walkway!


    In the lower level there’s an exhibit hallway with many Puget Sound fish and invertebrates. There’s nothing spectacular here, but this area presented a good variety of local marine fauna that you wouldn’t find at other aquariums.

    Just past the Puget Sound fish hallway, was the highlight of my visit to the Seattle Aquarium, the Underwater Dome. The Dome has 360-degree views of the surrounding 400,000-gallon tank of Puget Sound marine life. The frame of the dome is noticeable, but it has a strong form that adds another dimension to the exhibit. A depressed ring around the central viewing area provides closer views into the aquarium and has seating set against the retaining wall. The fish like to rest on the frame of the dome, which provides great up-close views. The Underwater Dome was part of the original design of the Seattle Aquarium, but I think it holds up well.


    The nearby marine mammal exhibits do not hold up as well. Exhibits for harbor seals, Northern fur seals, and sea otters are all too small. The pools for Northern fur seals and sea otters are deep but have small areas. The lack of horizontal swimming space was forcing the animals to turn around too much and greatly reduced the potential for variable swimming patterns.

    I spent a good portion of my visit to the Aquarium watching the marine mammals, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that I also felt a bit sorry for them. Some of the mammals would not be able to survive in the wild, and it's good that the Aquarium is trying to care for them, but they would be able to express a greater range of behaviors in a bigger exhibit.

    River otters have an exhibit in an area that showcases how the Puget Sound is fed by rainwater from the surrounding catchment basin. The rockwork in the river otter exhibit is well detailed and the crashing water from above is dramatic. There is some room for the otters to dig and shady places to hide. Unfortunately, the exhibit seems small and possibly under the 150 square meters of usable space generally recommended for river otters.

    I’ve been to a few aquariums and feel that they can start to look generic when they don’t have a regional focus. Seattle Aquarium’s strength is their focus on the Puget Sound region. The mammal exhibits have attractive animals and provide a more comprehensive view of Puget Sound’s wildlife, but the animals don’t have enough room, and this detracts from the overall visitor experience. Overall, the Seattle Aquarium is a good facility that will appeal to people who are looking for a good over-view of local marine life. I wish that I could have spent a little more time there, but it was closing for the day.
     
    Last edited: 10 May 2018
    Brum, snowleopard and m30t like this.
  14. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    11 Jul 2017
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    66
    Location:
    Canada
    Part 4 – Can the Woodland Park Zoo Live Up to My Expectations?


    My head was pounding as I walked along Seattle’s waterfront. Between the Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Seattle Aquarium there had been a lot for me to see and analyze and I had not stopped to eat enough on my trip. Admission for the Seattle Aquarium was a considerable $29.95 before taxes, so I was looking for a cheap meal. I wound up grabbing some fish and chips and coleslaw at Ivar’s Fish Bar.

    Seating was in a simple pavilion with views of the ocean.

    As I ate I watched some diners head outside and throw their scraps to the seagulls. At first, I had mixed reactions to this sight. Where I grew up it was illegal to feed wildlife because it habituated potentially dangerous animals to people. Seagulls aren’t dangerous-in spite of what the movie Birds might suggest. People have probably been throwing their fishing scraps to seagulls for hundreds or thousands of years. There was even a sign outside welcoming you to feed the seagulls. Watching the seagulls was captivating dinner theater and I wanted to participate too! The portion I ordered was generous, so I tossed a bit of my salmon to the seagulls outside. There was a flurry of activity as the seagulls rushed to devour their offering.

    On my way back to my hotel I walked through downtown Seattle and Seattle Center. The Museum of Pop Culture was beautifully lit up, so I came back there later that night with recharged camera batteries.

    The next morning, I had breakfast at my hotel and boarded a city bus for the Woodland Park Zoo.

    Woodland Park Zoo

    My built-up expectations of the Woodland Park Zoo were going to be very hard to live up to. Woodland Park Zoo has always been in my top five list of worldwide zoos that I wanted to visit.

    I have wanted to visit the Woodland Park Zoo for about twenty years. It was the closest large American zoo to my childhood homes in Alberta. We traveled often to British Columbia, but no further. Woodland Park Zoo always felt close and out of reach at the same time.

    In high-school I read A Different Nature by David Hancocks and came to revere the Woodland Park Zoo for being the birthplace of landscape immersion.

    Woodland Park Zoo is significant not just as a pioneer of landscape immersion, but also an organization that has successfully applied those principles for decades over multiple projects. The gorilla exhibit, African Savanna, Northern Trails, Trail of Vines, Tropical Rainforest, and Penguin Cove are all still highly regarded and continue to inspire other zoo exhibits. That’s a lot of high quality exhibits for one Zoo.

    Before I even walked through the gates I expected Woodland Park Zoo to be an exceptional zoo. I was anticipating that I would feel inspired and that the Zoo would be a showcase of what a good zoo should be. Could it live up to those expectations?

    At the West Entrance I became a member of the Woodland Park Zoo. I calculated that it would basically pay for itself by giving me discounts to a handful of other zoos on my trip. The AZA Conference is in Seattle this year and I was confident that I would be back for that. More importantly, there was the symbolic importance of being a member. The feeling that I was a part of the organization. I bragged that I was probably living the furthest away of all their members (I have you beat Snowleopard)! I walked into the Zoo grounds for the first time as a member.

    In a few steps I was at a famous exhibit, Penguins of the Humboldt Coast. The unfolding view immerses guests in a simulation of the shoreline of the Punta San Juan Reserve in Peru. In the foreground there are aluminum donor plates shaped like anchovies in the pavement. A fishing boat provides an informal play area for children. To the right there’s a blowhole that periodically sends blasts of water upwards. Further back there’s a low curved acrylic panel for underwater viewing of Humboldt penguins. The pool is flanked by artificial eroding sedimentary rockwork that curves forward on the right to meet the blowhole and back behind the pool to form a backdrop. Periodic cascades of water on the right send surges through the penguin’s pool. A gate on the left leads visitors further into the exhibit. There is a lot of drama, well-crafted rockwork, and embedded storytelling here that helps immerse you into the penguin’s world.

    At first, the penguins were on the shoreline in their exhibit, but they soon dove into the water. They swam around and seemed to play in the waves of surging water. Unfortunately, the viewing for visitors here is so low that even kids had trouble watching the penguins swimming by their feet. It’s easier to see the penguins further back, but other visitors can get in the way. I followed the penguins as they swam off to my left.

    As I passed through the exhibit the pool deepened. The eroding sedimentary rockwork continues along the back of the exhibit for its entire length. Similar lower foreground rockwork walls have pronounced arch shapes as they connect to the underwater viewing windows to create protected pockets of space. The penguins can build up some decent speed and tend to only be briefly visible as they swim past the viewing windows and bubbles. I walked back and forth through the exhibit a few times following groups of Humboldt penguins. It was a great experience, but I would have been hindered on a busier day and unable to move as well through the exhibit.


    I walked back up the exhibit to watch the penguins being fed. They were a few wild birds waiting nearby, including a large heron and seagulls. The exhibit is open-topped, so the zookeeper was hand-feeding the penguins to prevent the wild birds from stealing fish. In some contained exhibits, like Penguin Plunge at the Calgary Zoo, keepers throw fish into the pool. It’s a lot more entertaining to watch the penguins dive for their food and it gives them good stimulation and exercise.

    At the Woodland Park Zoo visitors can also feed the penguins. I came back to the exhibit later just for that experience. For $5 you get 5 anchovies to feed to the penguins. I lowered the anchovies one by one over the acrylic panel and the penguins eagerly snatched the fish from my hands! They’re so quick! I made sure I got a picture of one of the penguin I had fed, to help remember the experience.


    I walked by the wetlands that treat backflow from the exhibit’s sand filters. Geothermal wells heat and cool the water. Rainwater in the exhibit is collected to compensate for evaporation. All these features are explained in interpretive panels and showcase the Zoo’s commitment to being environmentally responsible.

    The sustainable features are just one of the commendable facets of the Humboldt penguin exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo. Immersive design features and great imbedded interpretation contributes to making the whole exhibit an experience. Feeding the penguins was a great opportunity to interact with them more closely! My only concern is that viewing was a bit difficult in the shallow pool area. Overall, it is still a great exhibit and a great way to start a visit to the Zoo!

    From there I headed to Banyan Wilds.

    I spent a lot of time watching a family of Asian small clawed otters scamper around their exhibit. They dove into their pool and stream, climbed on branches, dug, played, and ran around. Asian small clawed otters are small, and I had to lean over the visitor barrier to get good views of them below me. The exhibit does rise to partially obscure a smooth curved barrier at the back, but the otters spend more time at the front of their exhibit in the water. It feels like the Zoo missed an opportunity here to better showcase a very entertaining species.

    The other exhibits in Banyan Wilds did not hold my attention as well. Netting in the aviary obscured my views of the birds inside, including an impressive great argus. The mother sloth bear and her cubs were off-exhibit, and the other sloth bear was sleeping, and it was hard to see through the frosted viewing windows. I didn’t see the Malayan tigers.

    There were some nice built-in enrichment features in the exhibits. An interpreter pointed out distribution feeders and tubes that let the sloth bears vacuum up hidden food. A training wall in the tiger exhibit is a great feature for positive reinforcement between the keepers and tigers. It looked like keepers could also hang food and enrichment from a jostle tree in the tiger exhibit. If I had seen the animals engaged with the enrichment items I would have had a much better experience at Banyan Wilds, but I was probably just unlucky that day.

    I was a little disappointed with the size of the tiger exhibit. Snowleopard, whom I respect, described it as adequate. He’s seen much more zoo exhibits than me. According to the AZA Tiger Care Manual the average tiger exhibit at AZA facilities is 5,500 square feet. Based on those averages, Snowleopard's assessment was appropriate. I grew up watching Amur tigers at the Calgary Zoo’s exhibit and that shaped my expectations of tiger exhibits. The largest tiger exhibit at the Calgary Zoo is over 20,000 square feet of usable space based on my Google Map calculations. That’s probably three times the exhibit space for Malayan tigers at the Woodland Park Zoo. Seeing tigers in large spaces helps you intuitively appreciate that tigers are wide ranging and need large areas in the wild too.

    The first large cat I saw that day was a snow leopard perched atop a slope in an exhibit past Banyan Wilds. From the visitor viewing shelter the ground rises significantly to the back of the feline exhibit. Natural rocks dot the hillside and form a cave shelter. The view is open, but there are trimmed conifers in the sides of the netted enclosure and behind it.

    Nearby are the Australian exhibits. At Willawong Station guests can feed budgerigars, cockatiels, princess parrots, and Eastern rosella with seed sticks. Surprisingly, this area has been quite heavily detailed to look like the Australian Outback. The pathway is red and there are little red banks that have been textured and sculpted well and even include details like a crocodile skull. A bird exhibit in an attached building has been nicely planted and furnished but is too small for the kookaburra to fly much. Adjacent to this exhibit, the indoor space for common wallaroo and red-necked wallaby is very minimal. The exhibit wasn’t very good, but I probably spent several minutes watching the macropods here and having a good conversation about them with an interpreter. Their large, grassy outdoor yard is shared with emus and viewed through a fence from an elevated visitor pathway. On the other side of the path there is a nice collection of Australian plants that feels lost.

    The plants in the next section, Northern Trails, are much better integrated into the exhibit experience. Northern Trails is a landscape immersion exhibit representing taiga, tundra, and montane landscapes of the North. It is often difficult to ascertain whether the trees and landscape are part of animal exhibits or outside them. It opened in 1994, so there are now many towering aspen and coniferous trees. The Zoo continues to add new plants too.

    On my visit, wolves were lounging under some spruce trees. Standing next to the handrail, there were no noticeable barriers between myself, the wolves, and the empty elk exhibit beyond. The ha-ha fences that contain the wolves are cleverly hidden. Something stirred the wolves into activity and they trotted around.

    There was a family watching by me. The boy said, “the wolves don’t have as much space as I remember, their home actually isn’t very big”. I agree. The relatively flat space that the wolves were trotting around in wasn’t very big. A fair proportion of their space has steeper slopes that help disguise the fences. On my return walk past this area, one of the wolves ran down and then back up the slopes, probably to get away from one of the other wolves. The slopes are good for getting out of sight, but there should be more flat areas to escape to where the wolves can rest.

    Netted enclosures for birds of prey and porcupines weren’t very big either. Perhaps the birds were rescues and can’t fly well, but if that’s not the case then they could use more space to stretch their wings. The diagonal aviary posts are reminiscent of some of the nearby leaning trunks of aspen.

    The Tundra Center is even more cleverly hidden in the landscape. The only part of the building you notice from the outside are the doors. Living willow cover the rest. Inside there’s a 70-foot long curved mural depicting the four seasons of the tundra.

    Outside is the first viewing area into the grizzly bear exhibit. There appeared to be nothing between myself and the grizzly bear sitting at eye level across from me. Burrowed views of the landscape beyond make the exhibit seem limitless. Further down the path there’s another view across a similar ha-ha wall. A rock outcropping beside the path is covered in plants and branches. From within there are cracks that provide more views of the grizzlies. At some point my imagination started taking over and I lost sense of where I was. Those moments really can happen at an exceptionally designed zoo exhibit!

    The final viewing area is in the Taiga Interpretive Gallery and it’s cleverly disguised by plants growing on the roof. On one side of the gallery there are wide underwater windows looking into the grizzly bear exhibit. The landscape represents a floodplain with a braided stream, fallen trees, and willow plants. One of the two grizzly bears was swimming around while the other rested in the background! There are fish dispensers for enrichment, but I didn’t see any fish.


    The other side of the Gallery has wide underwater windows looking into the otter exhibit with a mountain goat exhibit in the background and more burrowed landscape behind that. The otters were busy playing with one another. One climbed atop a floating log right up against the viewing windows and rolled around cutely on its back! At the same time there was a lot of action back at the grizzly bear exhibit that I was missing. I watched the grizzlies for a while longer before I reluctantly left the shelter. I had easily been there for twenty minutes.


    Unfortunately, the rest of Northern Trails was closed (mountain goats, Stellar sea eagles, and elk).

    At times I was awed by the design of Northern Trails. I had some exceptional experiences with river otters and grizzly bears and enjoyed the wolves. However, I felt a bit uncomfortable with the size of the wolf exhibit and the netted enclosures for birds of prey and porcupines. Ideally, the grizzly bears would have more usable space too. Backtracking through the exhibition detracted from the drama and I was disappointed about the closed exhibits. If the animals had more space and other exhibits were added to create a loop, then Northern Trails would almost be flawless.

    Adaptations is much less exceptional. It’s a long rectangular building with a line of exhibits along one side. I saw meerkats, Indian fruit bats, two-toed sloth, some smaller reptiles, and Komodo dragons. I believe there was also a well detailed small exhibit for kea, but that may have been in Australia. One of the meerkats was pacing back and forth in a very stereotypical pattern. I have never seen a meerkat do that before and I found it distressing. The exhibit wasn’t well furnished, and I don’t recall much enrichment. Hopefully, the meerkats at the Zoo don’t usually pace like that.

    After feeding the penguins I decided that I could also use some sustenance too, so I got some food at the Rainforest Food Pavilion. The Woodland Park Zoo has composting and recycling bins and does a good job reducing consumer waste at their food services. I was ready for the next exhibit complex, the Tropical Rainforest.

    The Tropical Rainforest is entered through a large artificial buttressed trunk partially veiled in tropical vegetation. The pathway cuts through dense plantings to a giant simulated fallen ceiba tree. Lush vegetation grows out of the top of the fallen ceiba. A continuous sheet of glass from the bottom of the massive trunk to the pathway below is a window into the stream-side jaguar exhibit.

    At first, I couldn’t tell where the jaguar was among the scenic lush vegetation and artificial fallen trees.

    Another guest pointed out that the jaguar was in the back of the exhibit pacing back and forth. She knew where to find them almost immediately because they tend to pace in that same area. I felt dispirited. The experience built up by the design and craftsmanship of the landscape was being undermined by my feelings of pity for an animal engaged in repetitive behavior.

    It’s possible that jaguar’s temperature tolerances play a role in this concerning behavior. Jaguars cannot tolerate temperatures below -1.1 degrees Celsius and need supplemental heating at temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius (as per the AZA Jaguar care Manual). In Seattle, five months of the year have an average of six or fewer days of at least 16 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit). For a good proportion of the year the jaguars at the Zoo would be unable to fully enjoy their outdoor exhibit and their indoor space probably isn’t nearly as complex. Jaguars that are having difficulty coping with colder climates can display increased pacing (as per the AZA Jaguar Care Manual). This makes sense as they need to stay active to keep warm and that increased activity can lead to more pacing. When this exhibit first opened the jaguars wouldn’t enter the water features. Warming the water led to an increased frequency of swimming behaviors. This anecdote shows that jaguars are sensitive to colder temperatures and that it can modify their behaviors. Stereotypical pacing has complex causes and cannot be traced back to a single deficiency in the animal’s environment. However, it is possible that Seattle’s cooler climate could be contributing to increased pacing by the jaguars.

    I watched for awhile and hoped that the jaguar would break out of the routine.

    Thankfully it did. The jaguar emerged from the screened back of the exhibit. In clear view, the resplendent feline looked stunning surrounded by the vivid greens of the vegetation. It was no longer pacing in repetitive patterns and seemed to be more actively engaged with the environment. I really wanted to get a picture, but I was being too picky, the jaguar was moving quickly, and seeing the jaguar through the camera lens was less captivating than seeing it unfiltered before me. I missed my chance. The jaguar slipped back behind some dense foliage. I waited for awhile for it to re-emerge, before leaving in favor of seeing more animals.

    More Neotropical animals are exhibited in the Tropical Rain Forest building. The path through this building journeys from the shady rainforest floor to the canopy. I couldn’t see the ocelots (other visitors could), but I found colorful birds, reptiles, and amphibians among the giant tropical trunks. Further on, in the understory layer there are golden lion tamarins and bird exhibits with piano wire barriers. Passing into the canopy I saw a couple of white-faced saki monkeys in a tall, vertically orientated exhibit. Icons of South American fauna, the toco toucans also have a home nearby.

    A walk-through canopy level aviary is the highlight of the Tropical Rain Forest building. Visitors walk across a bridge surrounded by the upper branches of living tropical trees. A great variety of colorful and exotic birds can be viewed at eye-level as they fly between the tree branches. The dome above is transparent, but further down the architecture is masked by rings of vertical planters with tropical plants. This is the most immersive exhibit in the Tropical Rain Forest Building.

    Andean cock-of-the-rocks are one of my favorite Neotropical species and I was thrilled to get close to a couple of vividly colored male birds in the tree-tops! The spangled cotinga and crested oropendola in this aviary were also spectacular sights.

    Outside the aviary and building I heard the booming calls of red-ruffed lemurs. The lemurs were bounding along large tree trunks that connected their island exhibit with their holding areas. The holding building is artfully hidden behind a well-detailed artificial mud-bank topped with a dense tangle of vegetation. In between leaps, the lemurs stopped to roar at one another.

    Ring-tailed lemurs have a similar island exhibit with several large living trees. A conspiracy (group) of lemurs were cuddled together on a tree branch and didn’t seem to be causing much trouble. They were quite far away though, so it was hard to know for certain.

    I got a bit closer to the colobus monkeys from across the windows of a viewing shelter. The dramatically black and white monkeys have an enclosed exhibit set among the wide trunks of several mature trees. A network of branches provides additional climbing. Bamboo plantings green-up the exhibit and screen bad views. The pathway loop continues past the colobus monkeys and through dense plantings. Anticipation was building.

    As I passed by more plantings a view of a gorilla family emerged. The adults were foraging on the ground while the younger troop members climbed in the branches and trees above them. Herbaceous plants, shrubs, broken branches, and smaller trees around the gorillas within an area of larger trees gave impressions of a succession area within a tropical forest. The gorilla exhibits have been so cleverly designed and planted that you don’t notice the rockwork or holding buildings. Burrowed views visually extend the exhibit. Here, the landscape has dominance over the visitor areas and the gorillas are contextualized as agents within that landscape.


    Past the family group, I watched a couple of males under a covered area and wondered why they were so far away from the females and youngsters. I didn’t realize that there are two separate exhibits! The covered area has an open side that provides the gorillas access to a more open area that can be viewed from across a ha-ha wall, but it is not connected to the space where I saw the gorilla family.

    It would be interesting to re-visit this exhibit and see how much time the gorillas spend in the covered area as opposed to the more open areas of their exhibit. Gorillas prefer areas with more structural complexity (walls, ceilings). The covered area has some heating and is protected from the elements. In addition, there was a lot of food scattered around the covered areas, which would encourage the gorillas to spend even more time there. Even if the bachelor gorillas don’t use the more natural, open part of their exhibit often it is possible that it’s still important for their well-being.

    The gorillas were a great climax experience at the end of the exceptional Tropical Rain forest loop.

    Temperate Forest, the next exhibit zone I saw, was much less compelling than the Tropical Rain Forest. It’s not nearly as immersive. There’s less theming and there doesn’t seem to be much connecting the exhibits together. I would normally be quite interested in some of the animals here, but I passed by most of them quite quickly. There were pudu, red pandas, maned wolves, and some beautiful crane species all in simple exhibits with prominent barriers. Flamingos have an open exhibit viewed from across a boardwalk. I enjoyed the walk-through wetlands aviary more, but the low ceiling felt a bit oppressive in combination with the open views across the exhibit. The row of bird exhibits at the Conservation Aviaries felt repetitive. Bug World has a lot of nice little exhibits, but it felt like I was just crossing things off my list of things to see. I walked quickly through the farm animal areas. I felt a bit anxious to move on because there were still two major exhibit habitats to see.

    The African Savanna has a more exciting design. The African Village was under renovation, but the outlook was still open. From there, you can get a view of the Savanna’s waterhole in the mixed-species ungulate exhibit (giraffes, zebras, gazelles, and birds). The topography is nicely varied and there are burrowed views of the trees beyond. On the Savanna Trail there’s a walk-through aviary with a few species of African birds, but it’s dominated by Taveta weavers and the exhibit is dotted with their woven nests. Past the aviary, the path continues through dense vegetation with some openings providing views into the savanna exhibit. The hippo exhibit is seemingly continuous with the savanna beyond. It’s very scenic, but the hippos are viewed from above and the savanna ungulates are hard to see in the distance. A patas monkey exhibit is also visually connected to the savanna, but it’s more elevated relative to visitors than that for hippos. The lion exhibit was large and impressive. The final exhibit is for warthogs but was designed for African wild dogs. It’s well detailed, but the barriers are much better designed for large canines and are excessive for warthogs.

    Compared to the other immersive habitats at the Woodland Park Zoo the vegetation in the African Savanna is less immersive. Part of the problem is that public parks tend to have cropped grass and widely spaced trees like a representation of a savanna. Savanna exhibits at zoos must have other features too to look like a wild savanna and not just another city park. The African Savanna exhibit at the Zoo makes extensive use of burrowed views of stands of large trees. Some of those trees are conifers, which doesn’t help the immersion.

    I had anticipated spending more time at the African Savanna, but the animal experiences did not hold my interest. Neither the patas monkeys nor giraffes were out in their exhibits. The expansive ungulate exhibit is viewed from a distance and better suited for viewing giraffes than smaller ungulates like zebra and gazelle. I read somewhere that the giraffes are only out in their exhibit for about four months of the year. The pool for hippos isn’t heated and the hippos are also only visible for part of the year. I did see a hippo, but both the hippos and warthogs are viewed significantly below the eye level of visitors, which isn’t ideal. Finally, the lions were asleep. I probably spent more time watching weaver birds than any other species of animal in the African Savanna.

    The Tropical Asia habitats would also be disappointing for animal experiences. Assam Rhino Reserve wasn’t open yet, so I didn’t get to see the Indian rhinoceros, Visayan warty pigs, Demoiselle cranes, and turtles. In Trail of Vines I didn’t see the Francois langurs or siamang. I did see active Malayan tapirs and Indian pythons. I watched the orangutans for a few minutes before they went out of view into their holding spaces. It was past 4 pm, and many of the animals seemed to be headed off exhibit.

    I didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate Trail of Vines, but in general it seemed very impressive. The pathways are densely planted with a wide variety of plants to represent the floral biodiversity of tropical forests. Real and artificial vines are wrapped around trees and hang between them to form an arboreal network, like those some rainforest animals, including siamangs, use as trails. The outdoor siamang exhibit is a lush island with trails of vines connecting the trees. Orangutans have two large outdoor exhibits that are viewed primarily from an elevated boardwalk. The second exhibit also has viewing windows at ground level between tall rockwork formations. Each of these outdoor exhibits has tall artificial trees and living trees for climbing and tall rockwork barriers. Both the orangutans and siamangs have vertically orientated indoor exhibits with lots of artificial trees for climbing. The exhibit building has been well integrated into the landscape and the visitor areas are elevated covered paths adjacent to the building with one side facing the indoor exhibits and the other open to the outdoor forest. Windows in the animal exhibits provide burrowed views of the vegetation outside. Trail of Vines is a well-designed exhibit that I would love to explore more thoroughly on a future visit.

    I spent a total of over six and a half hours at the Zoo, but I was already planning my next visit before I had left the Zoo. It felt like I had missed quite a lot of animals. There’s a lot to see at the Woodland Park Zoo because they have continued to create award-winning exhibits for decades.

    Returning to my expectations, the Zoo met most of them. The design quality at the Zoo was indeed exceptional, particularly Northern Trails. It was inspiring to visit the exhibits and a great opportunity to learn more about zoo design. The craftsmanship evident in the rockwork and other features was phenomenal for a city zoo. The Zoo has a great horticulture department as well. Northern Trails and some of the other exhibits would not work so well if there wasn’t a great team, including many other types of professionals I haven’t mentioned, working together for the Zoo.

    The manner that architecture has been integrated into the landscape at the Woodland Park Zoo exceeded my expectations. Many of the buildings are almost completely hidden from view. The transitions from the landscape into exhibit buildings in the immersive exhibits were seamless, especially at the Northern Trails. There is a huge difference between the architecture at the Woodland Park Zoo and the overly self-aware and prominent architecture on the island at the Calgary Zoo. The architecture at the Woodland Park Zoo doesn’t distract from or compete with the experience of moving through natural landscapes and encountering animals.

    The Zoo unexpectedly fell a bit short with the proportion of animals that were off-exhibit or not visible. No doubt, that is partially down to luck because animal behavior is variable, and I don’t think they should be forced to be on display. It can also be attributed to the Zoo’s focus on exhibiting animals in naturally landscaped habitats and their exhibition of primarily tropical species. Many species at the Woodland Park Zoo cannot be displayed outside year-round in Seattle. Quite a few of those species, including giraffe and patas monkeys, cannot be viewed in their indoor spaces during these colder periods. If the indoor animal spaces are insufficient then the animal’s welfare will be compromised and that may continue to manifest itself even in the warmer months when the animal can go outside. It’s possible that this contributed to the pacing behavior I saw from the jaguars. Having too many animals off display during colder periods of the year may compromise animal welfare and detract from the visitor experience.

    If the Woodland Park Zoo had more indoor exhibits, then the buildings and architecture might detract from the strength of the Zoo- the experience of moving through natural landscapes. There’s a complicated balance here. Part of the solution may be to have more species that are well adapted to the local climate. A lot of tropical species are very popular, many are threatened with extinction, and there’s a bigger variety of them. Compromises need to be made somewhere. The exhibit building in Trail of Vines at the Zoo didn’t significantly detract from the immersion into a tropical forest and shows how some tropical animals may be exhibited in temperate zoos.

    I was a little disappointed with the size of some of the animal enclosures at the Woodland Park Zoo, although none of them were bad. The usable space for wolves, and Malayan tigers both felt too limited. Enclosure complexity is much more important than size for captive animal welfare. Size isn’t everything. I think there’s a tendency to compare enclosures based on size because it’s easier to see and more quantifiable than complexity and enrichment. However, a big complex enclosure is better than a small complex enclosure and variety is limited by space. Some animal behaviors, like running or flying, need minimum spaces for performance and this can’t be made up for by more complex exhibits alone. People, including myself, have gut reactions to exhibit sizes too and this influences emotional reactions and experiences of exhibits. That’s why many exhibits use burrowed views and other tricks, including at the Woodland Park Zoo. The designers know that people respond positively to larger animal exhibits. Woodland Park Zoo has pushed zoological standards with the quality of their exhibits but hasn’t been as progressive with the quantity of space for their animals.

    There isn’t a perfect zoo. Zoos are evolving institutions and it takes a long time to redevelop facilities. Our understanding of animal’s needs is growing. Funding can be limited. The climate and site pose additional challenges. It’s important to strive for ideals and improve, but zoos are complicated institutions and some compromises need to be made.

    I really enjoyed my visit to the Woodland Park Zoo. Most of the Zoo is composed of exceptionally designed immersive habitat loops. I had some great experiences with animals, especially penguins, grizzly bears, otters, Neotropical birds, and gorillas! There are a lot of exhibits that kept me engaged for the whole day and led to a lengthy zoo review!
     
  15. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Your Woodland Park Zoo recap is a fantastic document, full of incisive viewpoints and it was a delight to read a perspective from a first-time visitor. Since you mentioned me a couple of times in the review, and I've been to WPZ on a great many occasions, I thought that I'd address a few points.

    - On my last few visits there has always been a single Malayan tiger pacing at the side of the exhibit, only barely in public view. Based on that fact alone the exhibit has become a massive disappointment as on each visit I make several trips to that enclosure as it is handily located in the center of the grounds. Seeing tigers at the zoo is basically impossible.

    - The wolves have an exhibit that is of an adequate size as there is a sloping section both at the front and the rear with more space than can be immediately ascertained. However, on every single visit the zoo's 4 wolves (all female) are consistently at the highest point in the exhibit...which I agree is not the largest. Occasionally a wolf or two will race down one side or the other, but they always return to the top.

    - I've visited the zoo in the winter season on many occasions and the hippos and jaguars have always been on exhibit. You mentioned that those animals might not have access to their outdoor yards but that is never an issue. Jaguar Cove is brilliant but the hippo pool is badly outdated, not heated and now almost 40 years old.

    - The gorilla family is a joy to watch but the gorillas in the larger, more spacious exhibit are underneath the small, heated canopy area 95% of the time. In many ways it is a shame as when I've seen gorillas emerge from the forested section it is a revelation....but they much prefer to be amidst the hay and straw and under cover.

    - The giraffe exhibit is poor as the animals are allowed out on the African Savanna for only a few months per year and on rainy, cold days are kept in their barn or tiny outdoor stalls. I'd be curious to know how many days per year the giraffes are on the Savanna as my guess is that it is very few indeed.

    Overall, Woodland Park Zoo has stalled in the past decade. The 2009-10 openings of the fantastic penguin complex and West Entrance were terrific but since then things have been bleak. The Reptile House has been closed for a year-and-a-half, the Nocturnal House has been closed for many years, some visitors mourn the loss of elephants, and the highly-touted Banyan Wilds has only been an average addition to the zoo.

    There has been a long list of fairly minor changes (a small Broadleaf Theater, Butterfly Garden open for a few months per year, rhinos added in place of elephants, Visayan warty pigs) but nothing truly substantial for years. I look at zoos that have spent anywhere from $150 million to $300 million in the past decade (San Diego, Saint Louis, Omaha, Houston, Dallas, etc) and I feel as if Woodland Park has been treading water and arguably regressing.
     
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  16. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

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    Location:
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    Yes, Snowleopard, I mentioned you to encourage you to reply to my thread :D ! I hoped that you could provide more insight into the activities of the animals because you've been there a few times. That's exactly what you did, so thank you :) .
     
  17. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

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    Location:
    Canada
    Part 5 – Not All Plans Come to Fruition


    From the Woodland Park Zoo, I decided to walk back to my hotel. The bus I had taken to the Zoo passed through Fremont and I wanted to have a closer look at the neighborhood. Fremont was once a center of counterculture, but I suspect a lot of that has been pushed out or moved elsewhere over the years. Google has some offices here, as does Adobe, so young tech professionals now have a strong presence in the community.

    On the way to the Zoo my bus had also traveled down Aurora Avenue and crossed Aurora Bridge. It didn’t look very intimidating from the bus windows, but on ground I was afraid of it. It’s a huge piece of infrastructure. I crossed the water on a more pedestrian friendly bridge on Fremont Avenue. From there I was uncertain how to get back on Aurora Avenue, which I could see towering above me. I wound up walking a bit of a loop that climbed up the hill and connected to Aurora Avenue. From there it was easy to find my way back to my hotel.

    I was anxious to get back to my hotel to check on the status of a potential re-scheduled meeting. I have done some long-distance work for a firm specializing in zoological design, and really wanted to meet my employer. We had never met in person before. I was also hoping to get a check in person for the work I had done on a couple of projects. The original plan was to meet on Monday (it was now Sunday), but that was cancelled because my employer had to leave Washington state Monday for a site visit. My employer had forgotten the check-book, but I still wanted to meet briefly on Sunday night. Every few minutes I refreshed my e-mail account hoping for a reply. I understood that site visits take priority, but I still felt dejected that something couldn’t be worked out for Sunday night.

    While I was waiting, I looked up some news about the Woodland Park Zoo. I read a critique about zoos in the local newspaper. The article was very critical about the Woodland Park Zoo and other zoos and called for them to be reinvented as animal sanctuaries. I scrolled down and read the comments. Almost all of them were quite toxic. This sort of backlash against zoos online is something that I have seen many times before. When I did my thesis work on zoo design I did it knowing that my professor felt strongly opposed to zoos. I’ve also read many negative pieces about zoos. I try to understand other’s viewpoints about zoos because I’m interested in making zoos better for the animals and other people.

    I wasn’t in the best emotional state to read that article that evening. I was already feeling a little disheartened. I had always considered the Woodland Park Zoo to be an exemplary institution. It was hard to see it being lambasted.

    Online communities are not always a good representation of the wider community. Alejandro Grajal was interviewed for Zoophporia (zoophoria) and gave a much different assessment of the community’s support of the Zoo. The Zoo’s CEO was warned that the Seattle community might not be friendly to the Zoo, but he found the opposite to be true - that the Zoo had strong community support. He also cautioned against taking that support for granted and stressed the importance of continuing to evolve as an institution. If I had read that interview the same night as the critique it would have encouraged me and given a better perspective of the criticisms.

    Some of the criticisms of the Zoo originated from a story about a newborn giraffe at the Zoo. All the photos were from holding areas and the giraffe was shown in a very unnatural context. As I pointed out in my review of the Zoo, the giraffes are only in their natural outdoor exhibit for a few months of the year.

    The Woodland Park Zoo’s philosophy is that it’s important to show animals in their natural context. Immersive exhibits and more architectural unnatural spaces are discordant. However, the reality is that all the animals have at least some areas, especially holding areas, that look much more artificial. These less natural areas are often very important for taking care of the animals. At the Woodland Park Zoo those architectural areas tend to be hidden, but perhaps that’s not the best approach. Those holding areas are part of the Zoo and will probably be seen at some point, like in the article about the new-born giraffe. If the public has been taught, intentionally or not, that such spaces are not ideal for animal welfare then they will react negatively to images of them and may even feel disillusioned by the Zoo. Ideally, the Zoo should present animals in a natural context, but it is also important to show and explain how all the animal’s spaces contribute to their well-being.

    I certainly don’t agree with the conclusions of the criticisms about the Woodland Park Zoo, but they probably struck me emotionally because I was concerned about the giraffe’s winter quarters. There were other things that I was grappling with too.

    Earlier I had found out that there were 17 fraudulent taxi charges to my Travel MasterCard. The first billing was from two nights before when I got a taxi ride from the Greyhound station to my hotel in Seattle. The 17 identical charges were all from a different company though, one I hadn’t used.

    When I phoned my bank to dispute the charges I was told to wait because it was still pending. My Travel MasterCard basically functions like a debit account and has no credit. It cannot be used to burrow money. The pending fraudulent charges were significantly reducing the available funds for my trip, even if they were temporary. I had no idea if the fraudulent charges would continue.

    That same day my mother asked to burrow a few hundred dollars and I obliged. All my back-up savings were now gone. I had hoped to get my design work checks on this trip, but that hadn’t happened. I was dependent on the money on my Travel MasterCard and would have to be careful with my budget.

    For dinner I bought a few cold items from the nearby grocery store.

    There would be no meetings that evening. I debated trying to meet some other zoo designers in the Seattle area the next day, but it was getting late and my confidence wasn’t high enough to organize something last minute.

    The rest of my time in Seattle was improvised. I would not be able to give my business gifts in person, so I sent them via FedEx. It was nice just to unburden myself a little. At the Seattle Center I got on the monorail to downtown, partially for the expectation that it would pass through the Museum of Pop Culture (it doesn’t, but the Museum is built around the tracks). Once downtown, I headed for the Seattle Art Museum. It was closed. Pike Place Market was my back-up destination.


    That wasn’t the best choice. I had everything for my trip on me and it was hard to move around through such a crowded place. That day I looked trendy and well-dressed but was carrying my luggage case behind me with a bag on top. I felt vulnerable and suspected that it showed.

    When I stopped to look at a map a man complimented me on my hat. Earlier that day I had ignored some people on my walk who had called out to me, but I felt like I may have been acting rude and this guy was close, so he was harder to ignore. I replied, “thank you”. What he said raised the hairs on the back of my neck and made me regret being friendly. He said, “I know a special place that I can show you that will put a smile on your face for the rest of the day”. No. I was not interested whatsoever. I was afraid and didn’t feel comfortable there.

    I decided that the waterfront might be safer. I checked if the Seattle Aquarium offered discounts to Woodland Park Zoo members, but they don’t. On a tight budget, I wasn’t going to pay $29.95 before taxes to visit the Aquarium again, so I wandered the waterfront taking some photos. It was cold and pelting rain. It was still a few hours until my next Greyhound trip and I needed to do something to pass the time.


    I ate a late lunch at Ivar’s restaurant, next to the fish and chips outlet I had visited a couple days before. The restaurant sits on a pier and has windows overlooking the ocean. It was warm inside, and I could relax while eating my meal. As I watched the ferry ships go back and forth at the harbor I relished one of the few good meals I had on my trip.

     
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  18. TheEthiopianWolf03

    TheEthiopianWolf03 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    United States of America
    Glad to see you are enjoying one of the states finest zoos. Of course being stuck in California all the time, you start to realize that even with the 64-70 zoos you are still missing out on some of the more immersive and creative exhibits and the diverse collections others zoos have in other states. Woodland park is one of those zoos. This review is very good so far and I can’t wait to read more!
     
  19. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    11 Jul 2017
    Posts:
    66
    Location:
    Canada
    There are some significant challenges doing a US Zoo trip without your own vehicle.

    My meeting in Seattle was cancelled, so I had a day to potentially go to another zoological facility in the Seattle area (see Part 5, post #17). I considered making a trip to Tacoma. I've heard a lot of great things about Northwest Trek. Unfortunately, that facility is out in a rural area and it would have been extremely difficult for me to get there. Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is in Tacoma and more accessible, but it would have taken me over an hour one-way to get there from the Greyhound station in Tacoma. There are only a few Greyhound trips per day from Seattle to Tacoma, so you have to plan ahead to avoid wasting a lot of time. Pacific Seas Aquarium will open at Point Defiance this summer and will be a significant addition. I decided to stay in Seattle (see Part 5, post #17) and save the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium for a future trip.

    It's been a few days since my last zoo review, but I'll post a new one later today. It's a lengthy review (similar to my Woodland Park Zoo review) that's taken me several hours to write.
     
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  20. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    11 Jul 2017
    Posts:
    66
    Location:
    Canada
    For a wealthy state with a population close to 40 million people it surprises me that California doesn't have more high-quality zoos and zoo exhibits. The climate there makes it possible to create great outdoor exhibits too.

    What does everybody think about the number of photos embedded in each of my posts so far? I've been considering increasing it from five to ten to help break up the text and better illustrate some of the things I describe, but I don't want to add too many photos to Zoochat. Some of the galleries are already quite big.