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Pros and Cons of Biogeographic Theming in Zoo Exhibits

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Neil chace, 16 Feb 2021.

  1. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member

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    I've noticed lately that the vast majority of newly made zoo Exhibits have a biogeographical geographical theme- whether its African Savanna, North America, Amazon Rainforest, or Asian Highlands. Do people think his is a good or bad trend? Personally, I believe this is a worrying trend, as it harms diversity in zoo collections. Many of the AZA's struggling SSPs are from areas lacking ABC animals- such as Nubian Ibex and Kordofan Aoudad. I'm a big fan of the Red Rocks area at St. Louis Zoo, as they exhibit a lot of rare Hoofstock, with no regards of where they are from. I wish more zoos would make Exhibits themed this way, and not specifically East African Savannas- with thompsons gazelle and plains zebra overrepresented.
     
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  2. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member

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    It doesn't have to. But homogenization is currently the main trend within the AZA as small populations are dying out. We stand to lose quite a few species over the next decade unfortunately.

    Unfortunately that's not likely to turn around, many hoofstock populations are in decline. Red-fronted and Goitered Gazelles are near gone, Guenther's Dik-dik may now be gone. Particularly with larger hoofstock the private sector has large numbers, whether the AZA would attempt to bring in animals I find doubtful.

    But they can easily get Plains Zebra and Thomson's Gazelle, and so the exhibits go East African.
     
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  3. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    As you say, the biggest con is that it limits diversity in zoos. Especially since these themed areas tend to be based around larger regions, (continental Africa, Amazon Rainforest, stuff like that) and smaller regions easily get left to the wayside.

    I'd say the main pro is that it allows zoos to go deeply into specific areas and issues, rather than just broad concepts. It's easier to dedicate a lot of space to, say, deforestation when you're talking about a large area threatened by deforestation, rather than the individual species threatened by it scattered around the zoo.

    The first con could probably be mitigated by zoos having more areas themed around small regions (it's not like they'd take up a ton of space) but also have more areas themed around other concepts. Other than region and taxonomy, what are some themes more zoos could do?
     
  4. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member

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    Biome themed exhibits is a good alternative to geography in my opinion. Rather than an Amazon building, a zoo could make a Rainforests of the World Building- with animals from South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The same could work with Deserts and other biomes as well.
     
  5. ChaffeeZooFan

    ChaffeeZooFan Active Member

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    You make a really good point. In my great love for exhibit design I think I too often overlook things like that in my excitement for the new changes. I'd agree that it's a concerning pattern but I would also contend that perhaps it's more of a reflection on a direction zoos are heading in general and not specifically a consequence of biographical theming. I think if they care enough, a zoo can make place for animals like that. Unfortunately something like that is not usually the first thing a zoo is concerned with.

    I do still believe that the biographical theming trend is an overall positive. Education, of course, is usually cited by the zoos as a main reason for the trend, but I also think it helps the general public see that zoos are more than just menageries. The themes let zoos highlight issues local to those regions. I think it is up to zoos to realize the importance of keeping struggling SSPs and planning that with their expansions and renovations. For example, keeping addax in with the rest of the african hoofstock in an African themed exhibit even though they generally live in different regions. I think exhibits like San Diego's Africa Rocks can still follow somewhat of a theme while exhibiting a wide variety of animals from all over the continent. Some super popular, others very unknown. In the end it's just a matter of whether zoos are willing to plan and manage exhibits like that or if instead they opt for the most common over represented animals because it's what the public wants to see.

    I really like your point about having smaller region themed areas fit in around and between the larger ones. I also agree that zoos would do good to make some exhibits themed around things besides geography. Perhaps a theme highlighting differences and similarities in evolution on different continents or one showing the interdependency that different biomes have on each other would be a way to exhibit different animals from different parts of the world side by side. Sometimes making themes like that can be hard though because different flora and landscapes are harder to fit together and make that immersive feel i.e. Elephant Oddessy at the San Diego zoo. I think it's very possible though.

    Hopefully this reply has some factual base. I dont really have a good way to check my claims or opinions right now so please correct me if I said something wrong.
     
  6. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member

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    Everything you said seems correct, although an evolution themed zoo Exhibit seems like it would be difficult to make. Not saying it would be impossible, but would take some careful planning.
     
  7. marmoset23

    marmoset23 Active Member

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    personally I prefer mixing by taxon because it allows to see differences between species in the same family
     
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  8. Westcoastperson

    Westcoastperson Well-Known Member

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    I feel the same way. San Diego Zoo used to be known for its diverse collection but they choose ABC species over rarities with Elephant Odyssey. Now Africa Rocks is better but they still got rid of lots of important species which they could have fixed by doing a geographically fluid exhibit like savannahs of the world or deserts of the world exhibit. Personally, I think the best use would have been the mountains of the world exhibit but they still could have had a diverse exhibit with the ladder two.
     
  9. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member

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    Remember a lot of the hoofstock went to the safari park, where they could be maintained in bigger herds and breeding has been more successful.
     
  10. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I'm not sure if you have the relationship of these two things quite right. It's hard to disentangle the shift towards biogeographic exhibit complexes with the shift to larger and more irregularly shaped enclosures; more space for theming and landscaping; and a shift to managing larger populations of fewer species. They are all part of the same overall trend and happened over the same time period, but they are not inevitably linked.

    I doubt biogeographic exhibit complexes exclude that many species; most of our complexes are 1) North American/native, 2) South American tropical, 3) African forest, 4) African savanna, 5) Asian tropical/temperate, and 6) Australian. Not many species can't at least loosely fit into those, and that's ignoring the fact that most zoos have some number of standalone enclosures in addition to the biogeographic areas.

    Both of these can be folded into African complexes though, nor is it obvious that a shift in exhibit organization is the reason they are struggling. That being said, hoofstock are one of the groups that is most likely to be affected by a downshift in collection sizes given that most are interchangeable for guests, take up a fair bit of space, and are subject to USDA restrictions on importing and transporting that makes them not worth the effort.

    As for my overall opinion: I think there are merits to both approaches, and I appreciate zoos having a mix (or having a mix of zoos doing one or the other). Biogeographic is good for immersion, many educational themes, relevant landscaping, and showcasing a specific part of the world. Taxonomic concentrates similar husbandry needs and expertise in the same locations, allows the public more choice in what they want to see, and can develop appreciation for specific groups of animals like rodents, bats, invertebrates, or frogs.

    I think taxonomic organization works really well for reptiles and amphibians, being better showcased in a dedicated building rather than scattered around in various corners where they might get overlooked. I also don't mind leaving complexes that work, like Red Rocks which is indeed a great area to walk around. While I'm not much into the heavy lean on over-the-top cultural theming in American zoos, I can appreciate the desire to recreate an authentic African savanna or Amazon jungle experience and I don't mind seeing these as well.
     
    Last edited: 16 Feb 2021
  11. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    Personally, I prefer biogeographic theming in zoos. I prefer to see animals near each other that actually live together rather then a bunch of similar species from around the world. However, there are a few issues with how zoos usually make a biogeographic area. The first is that they choose and area too large. Personally I think one ecosystem (African rainforest, South American pampas, ect.) should be selected., possibly even a actual location (i.e., Gir Forest). This approach limits the species that a zoo could put in the complex, yes, but it allows you to show a visitor how the ecosystem functions. Show the visitor all the different niches filled. For example, if you have an exhibit based on the North American prairies, show off some of the grazers (American Bison, Pronghorn), the top predators (Gray Wolf, Cougar), some smaller mammals (Black-tailed Prairie Dog), some birds of prey (Burrowing Owl, Swainson's Hawk), and some species in need of conservation attention (Black-tailed Prairie-Dog, Greater Prairie-Chicken). If possible, these exhibits should include some smaller exhibits as well, you shouldn't leave out herps and insects. I think this approach to making complexes is what all biogeographic exhibits should try to be, but I've never seen one I thought was perfect.

    Another problem is that zoos tend to put species that don;t fit that environment into their biogeographic exhibit. I'm looking at you, Detroit.
     
  12. Neil chace

    Neil chace Well-Known Member

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    Roger Williams does this as well- Reeves muntjac in North America, Radiated Tortoise in Australasia, North American River Otter in Australasia, etc.
     
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  13. HungarianBison

    HungarianBison Well-Known Member

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    I think it's not a bad trend. It's simply more natural imo.
    I agree that in some cases species diversity is decreasing. (In Hungary it's not a big problem, because we don't have a lot of major zoos.)
    But I'd like to see more accurate biotope planning, not just 'African Savanna'. (In Budapest Zoo you can see S-African White rhino, E-African Rotshild's giraffe and N-African Mhorr gazelle together:()