Join our zoo community

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Review of Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Discussion in 'United States' started by geomorph, 23 Mar 2013.

  1. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    28 May 2009
    Posts:
    1,410
    Location:
    Newport Beach, CA, USA
    This review is based on my visit in May 2012.

    Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is located 5 miles North of Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in Highland Park. It is situated on steep hilly terrain perched above the Allegheny River, set amidst a beautiful mature deciduous forest that is one of its memorable features. It contains exhibits built within the last 25 years or so, except for one cluster of historic (and very outdated) bear grottoes. The quality of the exhibits is generally average to good. It is a major zoo, but just barely; it is on the small side for this category, and its collection is limited. It has a weak representation of South American and Australian species, and very few amphibians and reptiles and birds. It is unusual for a major zoo to have so few birds, but the city hosts a separate facility near its downtown that is devoted to them (The National Aviary) and can be considered as an extension of the collection even though it is not operated by the zoo. What the zoo lacks in birds, it makes up for in fish; the PPG Aquarium facility within the zoo is probably the most extensive fish collection in a zoo that I have seen, and it is presented in an attractive well-designed building that could nearly qualify as its own stand-alone attraction (admission to the zoo includes entry to the aquarium). The zoo’s large parking lot is situated on a flat expanse slightly above the elevation of the nearby river, and the only entrance to the zoo adjoins the lot where a cluster of red brick ticket booths forms the gate. Past these, the main walkway leads to a red brick structure which houses escalators and elevators; visitors must use either to ascend the forested bluff to the rest of the zoo. Once the upper level is reached, visitors enter a lackluster entry sequence devoid of animal exhibits called The Village. It has a café building with outdoor seating, a shop, a carousel, a train, visitor amenities, and an education building. The area is not unattractive, but the architecture and site arrangement are forgettable. The main walkway then crosses beneath a stone bridge that carries a small road that traverses through Highland Park before the bulk of the zoo is reached. From here, the arrangement of the zoo is an undulating loop path that travels through or adjacent to every exhibit complex. I will describe each exhibit complex in a clockwise route around the loop, beginning with Asian Forest and then African Savanna, Tropical Forest, Bears, PPG Aquarium, and Water’s Edge. The only complex that is a major spur off the loop is Kid’s Kingdom; unfortunately this review will not describe it because I ran out of time during my visit. It is very rare for me to miss a major section of a zoo, but I spent so much time in the aquarium in the late afternoon that the zoo was closing when I attempted to enter this highly-regarded final complex!

    Asian Forest is set within thick plantings of broadleaf trees and shrubs, and contains only a handful of exhibits. How many zoos feature an exhibit for snow leopard as their first habitat? Every visitor encounters this exhibit at the beginning of their excursion. Unfortunately, it is a small exhibit composed of a simulated rock escarpment rising up the hill with no apparent natural substrate or plantings within. It is contained in a wire mesh structure on all sides except for a small viewing structure built of concrete masonry units at the base with a double window for peering into the poor habitat. As many snow leopards would attest, exhibits like this are better suited for marmots than large cats. If visitors have a poor impression of the zoo thus far, things improve immediately around the corner as the path reaches several open viewing areas of the Amur tiger exhibit located across an impressive deep rocky water moat. The far side of the moat’s rocky walls rise at a gentler slope than the side below visitors, and several ledges provide footings for the cats to explore; a rocky series of terraces allows access for them down to the water moat in one area. The area beyond the moat’s rocky rim of ground and a few trees is really quite narrow, making the exhibit a bit small; however, the back containment is a high wire fence (not especially attractive) backed by trees rather than another rocky wall so that it is not a grotto. Visitors get a closer look at the tigers from a small sheltered window located around the side of the habitat, set at ground level so the cats can walk next to it. Just across the path from this is a much larger covered wood shelter with vaguely Indonesian detailing that runs the length of the Komodo dragon exhibit; visitors look through a series of floor-to-ceiling windows into an average-sized yard fenced with bamboo and containing some shrubs and a simulated rock depression that appears like it could be a pond if filled. There is also a small room on one end of the shelter, viewed through a window, serving as indoor quarters. This average exhibit was empty when I visited, the inhabitant having recently passed away. The other two exhibits of Asian Forest are curiously located further down the main walkway after several of the exhibits in the next area (African Savanna) are seen. They are later additions, probably located where they are because there was no room adjacent to the other three. One of them is a small grassy yard with a few shrubs for Reeve’s muntjac set in a forest clearing; it is fenced on all sides with sloppy low wire mesh and appears as if it could be removed in a day with no evidence that an exhibit ever existed there. The other is obviously more permanent, and carries its own identity: it is called Taiga Forest and is an Amur leopard exhibit. Its roomy covered viewing shelter is made of large timber poles and has some vaguely Russian details and excellent educational graphics that distinguish it from the older signage of the other Asian Forest exhibits. Three large windows look into the adequately-sized netted enclosure; the landscape is excellent, featuring real rock outcrops, a small water cascade, and deadfalls set amidst a very naturalistic arrangement of grasses and small shrubs. The forest rises behind the enclosure. To the right of the viewing shelter is a small concrete block building with a bronze leopard statue in front that visitors can touch. A window looks into utilitarian indoor quarters and a roll-up door appears to be for keeper interactions.

    Amur Tiger Exhibit in Asian Forest:

    [​IMG]

    African Savanna begins just around the corner from the Komodo dragon and Amur tiger exhibits; in fact, the back fence of the tiger habitat can be seen in the background of the first exhibit for water birds. The sign for this exhibit is titled ‘African Water Birds’ but it has only general descriptions of types of water birds and their bills: pelican, ibis, goose, heron, flamingo, and duck. Whether all these types of birds were in this exhibit in the past is not clear, the sign appears to be from the original design of the educational graphics that are still scattered throughout this complex and are probably 25 years old. (The signs feature simple tan text and illustrations on brown backgrounds.) I did spot sacred ibis, and what certainly appeared to be American flamingo rather than the geographically –correct greater or lesser flamingo. Despite this species flaw and the rather ugly appearance of some of the fencing, the exhibit is roomy and has a nice shallow pond and a lush assortment of grasses and shrubs. Like all the exhibits in African Savanna, viewing areas are interspersed along the exhibit fronts with planted areas while the viewing area railings are simple slanted wood rails (some in need of repair) supported by metal poles with metal cables strung horizontally between them (many in need of tightening). Beautiful mature deciduous forest surrounds the exhibits, although it is not partucularly evocative of the African veldt. Across from the water birds is an exhibit for West African dwarf crocodile. It was empty and drained during my visit, probably a summer-and-fall-only exhibit. It is a small pond contained within high walls of simulated muddy riverbank, and is a short lower section of a much longer planted moat that separates visitors from a long dry exhibit for black rhinoceros. The gentle slope of their exhibit is only interrupted by a simulated termite mound plopped in the middle, and a mud wallow on the lower end. The ugly fencing that contains the sides and back is made of thick steel poles with steel cables strung between that need tightening and a darker color; however, the fencing is merely a distraction from the beautiful forested backdrop that lies beyond. The visitor path continues on around a simulated termite mound that echoes the one in the rhino exhibit, then arrives at one of several viewing areas for one of the best mammal exhibits at the zoo: African lion. This exhibit has a rather dramatic arrangement of simulated rock boulders and ledges, both containing the front of the habitat and creating an upper terrace in the exhibit. The ground plane within slopes at various angles, is dotted with boulders, and planted with many grasses and shrubs. Shrubs in the back of the enclosure obscure nearly all of the fencing, with yet another beautiful forest backdrop, making it difficult to determine where the habitat ends. A small covered viewing shelter offers the final viewing area of the exhibit through a window; directly in front of it is a small pond with some aquatic plants that the lions would need to wade in if they were to come up to the glass, which is unlikely but it is an unusual scenic feature for an exhibit for this species. Around a bend in the visitor path is another fine exhibit, this time a mixed-species habitat containing ostrich, dama gazelle, and springbok (although identification signs set in a railing identified the species as ostrich, crowned crane, Grant’s zebra, and eland!) A fairly naturalistic waterway contained with simulated rock and muddy riverbank forms the front of the exhibit, while an open grassy clearing on a gentle hill is the main area for the animals. The far end of the exhibit has a large viewing shelter crafted of large wood poles called the Gwazi Water Overlook, and it serves as the first viewing area of the African elephant exhibit as well, which is signed as the Saba Elephant Reserve. A long swimming hole for the elephants fronts the entire outdoor viewing area of the exhibit including the shelter; it is actually the same waterway that continues as the separation between this and the previous mixed-species exhibit. Steel I-beam posts submerged within the waterway (their tops stick up slightly above the water surface) prevent the elephants from approaching the viewing area too closely or from entering the mixed-species exhibit. Although the elephant habitat is mostly a flat, tree-less, dusty expanse dotted only with a simulated termite mound and a few boulders, it is not unattractive- again, beautiful forest forms the backdrop and it is a reasonably large space. The back and far side fences are hefty steel rails spanning between steel I-beam posts, but are fairly well hidden in the background and are located in a ditch on the far side separating this exhibit from the giraffe exhibit described later. After the outdoor views, visitors can enter the Elephant Care Center, a simple modern barn constructed of concrete masonry units with a tall sloping ceiling punctured by large skylights. Within are two plain elephant stalls separated from the visitor hall by steel bars; then the hallway exits the building and windows allow views into a much larger indoor space for the elephants. Educational graphics in and around the Elephant Care Center are clearly more contemporary than those in the rest of the exhibit complex. Around another bend is the next exhibit, for Masai giraffe. It is another fine yard fronted by a naturalistic waterway, with a fairly flat expanse dotted with a few tall steel feeder poles; if the elephants are near this side of their habitat, they appear to be in the background of the giraffe exhibit with little obvious separation. Nearby is a short walkway to the next exhibit complex described in the following paragraph, Tropical Forest. Next, visitors enter Safari Plaza, an area of outdoor seating including a large wooden deck and surrounded by a few contemporary wood buildings with peaked roofs and vaguely African painted designs. One building is Safari Grill, and the other is Safari Pizza. They act as the major dining center of the zoo apart from the one near the entrance. The final exhibit of African Savanna is then seen nearby (the first if a visitor is touring the zoo in the counter-clockwise direction) and it is the Painted Dog Bush Camp, again with educational graphics more contemporary than the rest of the complex. This exhibit has been changed since my visit; it was the site of a tragic death later in 2012 when a child fell into the enclosure and was killed. There were two viewing areas of the exhibit; the first was an elevated lookout perched directly above the habitat, in a small covered octagonal wood shelter with wood railings. The sides were enclosed with glass panels on two sides, and mesh panels on two sides; however, the front side was not enclosed above the railing and apparently the child’s mother lifted the child on the railing and then the child fell, bouncing off a narrow safety net below and into the enclosure where nature took its course. This shelter has recently been removed entirely. The other shelter is at the far end of the exhibit, a rectangular wood shed with two large windows on one side that the dogs can approach directly. When I visited, the large pack (10?) was relaxing in a group next to the windows. Their habitat is quite large, located in a fairly steep ravine that is mostly bare earth and shaded by a few immense trees within. A small rocky pond surrounded by boulders and deadfalls is located on the far steep slope. Obvious wire fencing encloses the habitat, but is immediately surrounded by greenery. It is a decent exhibit for providing space and varied elevations, but needs more detail within. The viewing shelter itself has a few nice details: it provides a view of the black rhinoceros exhibit down the slope (seen at the beginning of this complex) and has a showcase of small wire sculptures made of snares from Africa with graphics that explain the process of turning these deadly traps into native art.

    Saba Elephant Reserve in African Savanna:

    [​IMG]

    Tropical Forest is a large greenhouse-like building that sounds more comprehensive than it is; it is essentially the zoo’s primate house. It features a single amphibian exhibit and 8 primate exhibits, only one of which has an adjoining outdoor portion. The building is a large rectangle shape and is entered on one of its short sides, its doorway beneath a wood trellis. Once inside, the large volume of the building is apparent with its bright interior lit from a tall peaked ceiling covered in opaque glass panels that flood the room with natural light. A lush forest of tropical plants greets visitors as the path splits and forms a route around the building as it hugs the outer walls. Six very similar habitats for primates occupy the center of the room, each viewed from a darker lower-ceilinged hallway with multiple angled windows along the path and long backlit educational graphic panels above the windows. This arrangement allows for framed views of each exhibit, so that the true height and containment of each is not immediately apparent. Each exhibit is a tall wire-mesh enclosure of roughly hexagonal shape, supported by timber poles. Unfortunately, they are on the small side of width for primates; they have ample vertical space but the simulated trees and deadfalls and vines are rather sparse for taking advantage of the volume. Each is covered with simulated rock or riverbank floors with a good amount of elevation change. It is a shame that there is no natural soil within the habitats since it is abundant directly beyond; the backdrop of each is the lush forest of real plants that occupies the center of the room. Three of the exhibits are viewed along one side of the building, and the other three along the other side. Signs announce the geographic identity of each exhibit along the route. Madagascar is represented in the exhibit for ruffed lemur (the sign did not specify the species, but it is black-and-white ruffed lemur). South America is represented in two exhibits: one containing white-faced saki, cotton-top tamarin, and two-toed sloth (unspecified species) and the other for black howler monkey. There is also a large simulated tree stump nearby, containing a small terrarium exhibit for poison dart frog (unspecified species). Asia is represented by an exhibit for white-cheeked gibbon. Africa inhabits the last two, one for black-and-white colobus and the other for mandrill (although it was occupied by blue monkey the day of my visit and it is nice to see a pair of the few remaining ones in captivity in the U.S.!) The exhibits for gibbon and mandrill seem especially inappropriate for those species; perhaps a good fix to this building (which really is a nice facility that has missed the mark) would be to connect each of the three pairs of exhibits on opposite sides of the central forest with small wire chutes through the trees, reducing the total number from six smaller exhibits to three larger exhibits. Asia is also represented by another primate exhibit, this one very different from those in the main room; it is a darker room on the other side of the path from the white-cheeked gibbon, for orangutan. It is the building’s major disappointment. The room is fairly small, has a concrete wall with a painted rainforest mural as a backdrop, and is viewed through windows. A fair amount of simulated tree trunks and deadfalls furnishes the room, and there is good elevation change in the simulated rocky floor (with a smattering of straw spread around when I visited), but it is essentially a prison for this species and has no outdoor exhibit space. The last exhibit in the building, across from the two previously-described African exhibits, appears at first to be a another disaster. It is a very similar room for lowland gorilla. However, it is only their indoor exhibit; exit doors nearby for visitors lead to a large shelter with windows looking out into a good-sized outdoor exhibit for the gorillas. A path travels outdoors to several viewing points at the end of the long habitat that is contained by a concrete dry moat. The space is generous, dominated by a rolling grassy hill that hides the majority of the far moat. Some large trees, a large mass of deadfalls, and a simulated boulder-lined shallow pond are also features of this habitat. It is a good exhibit although not as detailed as many for this species.

    Black-and-white Colobus Exhibit in Tropical Forest:

    [​IMG]

    Bears is the only historic exhibit complex remaining at the zoo, and like many similar exhibits in other zoos it should be emptied entirely and featured as a relic of a bygone era. As it is, only one of the four grottoes is occupied, by American black bear. I understand one other was occupied by an Andean bear in the recent past before my visit. An historic plaque between two of the grottoes reads ‘Built By Works Progress Administration, Sponsered By City of Pittsburgh, 1936-1937.’ All four grottoes are similar, being small spaces with concrete moats in front, sloping concrete floors with little naturalism, and tall rusticated rock masonry back walls and sides, with a few tiny niches forming caves or access to holding areas. Located on a slope, all four have forest growing above them, making it appear like they are being reclaimed by nature.

    Empty Grotto in Bears:

    [​IMG]

    PPG Aquarium is a large modern building situated on two levels as it descends down a slope. Multiple swooping curved metal rooflines create an impression of abstract waves, topping contemporary concrete masonry unit walls and banks of clerestory windows. The attractive architecture is a good indication of the fine quality of most of the exhibits it contains. The building can be entered on either the upper or lower level, depending on which end is reached first, and nearly all of the exhibits are located within. However, before the upper entry doors, there are a few exhibits viewed from the exterior. The first are several windows set in a low extension of the building that view ‘behind the scenes’ areas of an aquatic support room. Multiple utilitarian tanks crowd the room and some are close to the windows, highlighting coral conservation and sea turtle rehabilitation. Next to this are two adjacent exterior exhibits set in a simulated rocky landscape of waterfalls; both are open-top waterways viewed through underwater windows at different levels and featuring native fish. One contains largemouth bass and walleye while the other has longnose gar (both appeared to have more species than were identified, a common practice at this aquarium as well as many others). Nearby is a bronze statue group of three river otters set above a shallow rocky streambed. Upon entering the upper floor’s large bright lobby, the steel beams that support the dramatic roofline soar overhead while a large photo mural of humpback whales dominates one wall and a curved glass railing overlooks the large slylit atrium of the lower floor described later. A large round column tank sits in the middle of this lobby, containing leafy seadragon (although it was empty during my visit). From here, visitors enter a darker hallway that follows a route through the exhibits of the upper floor. They are organized into four themes along the route: A Freshwater Fortune, Coldwater Climates, The Coral Reef, and The Open Ocean. An exhaustive description of every tank surpasses my desire to type (!), but I will list each tank’s type and species (and make comments about a few of the exhibits). Suffice it to say that most of the exhibits are fine quality, well-detailed, easily viewed, and clearly marked with consistent modern educational graphics. A Freshwater Fortune contains 14 exhibits. 4 of them are featured tanks of medium size that are skylit from above, have open tops, and are contained in vignettes of simulated rock and plants: Inland North America is divided into two exhibits by rockwork and contains Northern Pike, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch; The Waters of Sahul contains Siebenrock’s snakeneck turtle, red rainbowfish, and Lake Kutubu rainbowfish; and Asian Island Streams contains clown loach and pearl gourami. The other 10 exhibits are wall exhibits of various small-to-medium sizes: rainbow trout, brook trout, black crappie, and white sucker; bullfrog; darter; cave fish; hellbender; African knifefish and Congo tetra; Brichardi cichlid and Duboisi cichlid; electric eel; Surinam toad; and glass catfish. Colder Climates is the darkest part of the hallway route and contains 7 exhibits. 6 of them are wall exhibits: green surf anemone; wolf eel, green surf anemone, and kelp perch; butterfly perch, Shaw’s cowfish, and Southern anemone; dark shyshark, Roman, redfingers, and knobbly anemone (I don’t remember ever seeing any of these species before, and they are featured in a larger tank that curves at the top over visitor heads to form a half-tunnel); West coast sea nettle; and Pacific giant octopus. The seventh exhibit of Coldwater Climates is the featured attraction of this part of the aquarium: an exhibit for king, macaroni, and gentoo penguins. Visitors look at the habitat through a long floor-to-ceiling window that provides both abovewater and underwater views of a long narrow simulated snow-capped rocky backdrop and ledge, the space dominated by the pool. The dark lighting is artificial. It is a nice exhibit but ultimately is smaller and not as impressive as similar exhibits elsewhere. The Coral Reef contains 14 exhibits. 12 are wall exhibits and range in size from small (for seahorses and pipefish) to medium: pot-bellied seahorse; a tank identified with 4 species of pipefish but only appeared to contain upside-down jellyfish; a seahorse and pipefish nursery (unidentified species); dwarf seahorse; lined seahorse and pipefish (2 exhibits); long tentacle anemone, skunk clownfish, and Percula clownfish; purple tang, yellow tang, Banggai cardinalfish, blue devil, raccoon butterflyfish, copperband butterflyfish, and tridacna clam; frogfish; a completely unsigned medium tank full of corals (real?); lionfish, rabbitfish, and stonefish; and royal gramma, blackeye goby, Kole tang, cleaner wrasse, and long-spined black urchin. The other 2 exhibits are small shelf tanks that protrude from the wall: the one in a wedge contains ridged slipper lobster and spotted spiny lobster while the one in a dome contains spotted garden eel and jawfish. The Open Ocean is at the end of the upper floor hallway route where the hall opens up to the large lower level atrium, is the weakest of the four themed zones, and contains 4 exhibits. The first is a nice large wall exhibit for wimplefish, squirrelfish, humphead wrasse, and red emporer; it may contain other species since a sign posted between it and the next tank is not clear to which it applies. The tank extends far away from visitors and is a coral reef-like grotto and appears to have a window in the distance separating it from the much larger adjoining tank. That tank is by far the largest volume tank in the complex; what would be the feature tank for sharks at other aquariums is actually a disappointment here, mainly due to the very poor viewing conditions. Bright light from the adjoining atrium creates glare, making it difficult to see into the exhibit. Several of the windows are separated by several feet from visitors due to them being two-story windows containing the front of this deep habitat; visitors can descend stairs or an elevator down to the lower floor to get closer to the windows but it is a compromised arrangement. The exhibit itself is a tall rocky grotto that appears to be more of a coral reef than an open ocean. The species identified with signs include zebra shark, blacktip reef shark, lace moray, bluering angelfish, wimplefish, moon wrasse, panther grouper, yellow tang, and golden trevally; I certainly spotted cownose rays and some other reef fish. A small wall tank on the lower level next to the large tank contains lionfish, raccoon butterflyfish, yellow tang, and brownbanded bamboo shark. Next to this is a small alcove room with a submarine play structure and a small-sized open-top shallow tank for several unidentified rays, too large for the space provided. The tank has a child’s-sized crawl tunnel around the side and back and an aquatic-themed tile mural around the sides; it is rather ugly. The rest of the lower level of the aquarium is much better: it contains the fifth themed zone, called Tropical Freshwater Rainforest, which occupies a vast atrium beneath a ceiling of skylights set in the undulating roofline far above. Tall walls of windows on three sides flood the room with additional light. The interior is a lush landscape of simulated rock walls containing tropical trees and shrubs as well as the open-top aquatic exhibits, and large simulated tree trunks rise to partially obscure the structural columns of the room. A visitor path hugs the perimeter walls as it circles the space to see the 5 exhibits. The first is the largest, and is the blockbuster exhibit that the large Open Ocean tank should have been; it is a large pool, perhaps 6 feet deep, containing Amazon species including arapaima, redtail catfish, pacu, and arawana. Several short waterfalls spill into this nicely detailed habitat that I understand was originally occupied by a river dolphin! The other 4 exhibits are nice medium-sized tanks along the outer path: bigtooth river stingray, pearl stingray, and royal panaque; tetra, flag cichlid, and South American lungfish; cardinal tetra, red discus, black ghost knifefish, and twig catfish; and red belly piranha. A nice modern giftshop near the lower entrance and a terrace outside completes this nice facility.

    Tropical Freshwater Rainforest in PPG Aquarium:

    [​IMG]

    Water’s Edge begins right outside the lower entrance to the aquarium and is located down the slope from it; the contemporary architecture of the aquarium building looms over the background of the exhibits. It is a complex that was designed to be the home of North American aquatic mammals, but one of the four exhibits never received its intended species (walrus) and features sharks instead. The first exhibit is for polar bear, and is a good size with a large swimming pool; unfortunately it lacks any natural soil except for a little pit of gravel. The first viewing area of it is next to the aquarium, where a small simulated rock cave has a window into a small cave for the bears. Several signs tell the stories of ‘Mother Nanuk’ and ‘Nanuk’s Ice’, explaining folklore from their territory. The complex has many educational and theme-establishing graphics in different styles and they are mostly good although inconsistent. Several large windows set in the rocky walls that contain the upper elevations of the habitat are nearby. They have views of the detailed rocky terraces and a small waterfall and pond that the bears can explore; they also have views of the entire habitat as it descends down the slope to the swimming pool, framed with rocky containment walls that are too perpendicular to be convincingly natural. Nearby a wood archway sign adorned with simulated whale ribs announces the name of the complex at the start of a meandering path that descends down the slope away from the first viewing areas. Along the simulated dirt path (with the requisite animal tracks) are young coniferous trees that help establish the theme of the complex and signs that warn ‘trackers’ of ‘polar bear alerts.’ Beside the path is a small mulched clearing with a polar bear trap on a trailer into which visitors can climb. Around a bend the path reaches a small wood bridge and a sign that announces ‘Welcome to Pier Town – Where Man Meets Nature – Human Population 1,712 – Polar Bear Population 368.’ A panorama of ramshackle facades of this fictitious small town is approached from here; the facades form the containment walls of the lower portion of the polar bear exhibit, although the face of these walls is simulated rock on the other side that the bears see. A boardwalk forms the visitor path along the town facades, which are crafted approximately half-scale. The first façade is made of rusty corrugated metal and emulates a fish cannery with a small rowboat hanging by ropes and winches against a wall; themed signs state rules and regulations of a responsible fishery. Part of its roofline overhangs a viewing window that has a surface view of the polar bear swimming pool with a sliver of underwater view at the base. A nearby sheltered sign discusses the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil drilling debate and visitors can fill out comment cards and drop them in one of two ballot boxes, either for or against the issue. The next town façade is a small open storefront called Sound Seafood; a simulated refrigerated display case emulates a fish market and multiple signs explain consumer seafood choices. Another viewing window to the polar bear pool area and several more wood facades follow such as a shed and a few more storefronts, one of which has ‘Wanted’ signs posted to warn ‘townspeople’ of illegal poaching of walrus for tusks. All this educational signage in the guise of theming helps save what otherwise is a rather ersatz rendition of a Northern outpost. Nearby the boardwalk is the supposed wreck of a small fishing boat along a lower path. Beneath the boardwalk, a doorway leads into the underwater viewing gallery of three of the four exhibits of the complex, and all theming disappears since it is a rather plain modern space. The first exhibit to view is a long underwater tunnel through the polar bear swimming pool; the blue carpet on the floor matches the pretty blue color of the clear water in the large pool. Unfortunately, the walls and floor of the pool are almost entirely a stark plain rectangle with the exception of a few small rocky features, as if the project ran out of funds to cover the space in simulated naturalism. This is a good example of this complex having clumsy design flaws that make it miss its potential. Alas, the polar bear did not swim while I was there. A large plain room is reached next, one side featuring a nice floor-to-ceiling curved window looking into the deep underwater space of one of the two sea otter exhibits. Rocky outcrops and walls make it far more successful than the previous pool. An alcove nearby in the gallery was roped off and a keeper was watching a baby sea otter that had not been introduced to the exhibits yet; instead it had a small open-top temporary swimming tub and ramp to explore, and it was a joy to watch its hyperactivity and squeals up close. Back outside on the boardwalk, the two adjoining sea otter exhibits (they can probably be connected by a passage out of view?) are rather small and grotto-like, contained within high rocky walls and viewed from large windows set in the rocks. The windows mostly provide surface views, but they feature underwater views at the base. The second sea otter exhibit is not seen from the gallery below and appears to be shallower than the first, but both provide good encounters with the animals. The last exhibit is nearby, announced by a sign as ‘Sand Harbor Bay.’ This is the exhibit that was built for walrus. As the boardwalk ends, the path widens to a generous viewing area with many windows looking into this outdoor habitat; unfortunately there is nothing to see from above due to the current residents: sand tiger sharks and a school of unidentified pelagic fish! The habitat is dominated by a large aquatic habitat, but of course the rocky shelf above water on one side is never used by the inhabitants. Rocky walls contain that area while rather stark concrete walls made to look like a lumber fence rise above most of the water around its rim. The actual viewing of the fish is back downstairs in the unthemed underwater gallery, which has a nice long underwater tunnel as well as several large windows that view the depths of the large pool. Like the polar bear pool, this one is sadly devoid of natural detail and feels like a submerged bunker. On a positive note, the views of the sharks are good and make up for the poor viewing of the sharks in the PPG Aqaurium described previously!

    Polar Bear Exhibit in Water's Edge:

    [​IMG]

    Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is well worth a visit even if few of its exhibits are the best of their kind; it is mostly a pleasant experience, and I might rank it higher if I had been able to see Kid’s Kingdom! On my list of the 60 zoo facilities I have visited, I rank it at number 33. In my list of the 46 aquarium facilities I have visited, I rank the PPG Aquarium at number 29 (that is second only to the Scott Aquarium at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo for aquariums within zoos on the list). None of the exhibit complexes or individual exhibits rank on my top lists. General adult admission is $10 in the off-season or $14 in peak season and is priced correctly. I have posted additional pictures in the gallery.
     
    Last edited: 23 Mar 2013
  2. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    1 Dec 2007
    Posts:
    6,742
    Location:
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    I enjoyed this detailed, informative review and it is always interesting to read other opinions on zoos that I have visited. I found Pittsburgh Zoo to be subpar, as the African and Asian zones are simply average and the Tropical Forest complex is borderline awful. I won't even go into details in regards to the 1930's bear grottoes as they are going to be overhauled once the American Black Bears are gone, but all zoos have at least one shining example of modernity and Pittsburgh actually has two such examples. The children's zoo is very good, amongst the best of its kind in the U.S., while the aquarium is clearly the #2 aquarium in the nation and bettered only by Omaha's facility.

    Pittsburgh fails with a number of key animals, as its Polar Bears are in an exhibit that was only built less than 8 years ago and yet there is hardly any natural substrate; the Lowland Gorillas have a grassy field that is not entirely appropriate for the species; the Orangutan exhibit is horrendous; and in fact none of the primates have good exhibits. An intriguing zoo with a couple of outstanding sections...but then the rest is middling to disappointing.
     
  3. NielsGuchelaar

    NielsGuchelaar Member

    Joined:
    10 Jan 2012
    Posts:
    8
    Location:
    Gouda, Netherlands
    Thank-you for the amazing, detailed review!
     
  4. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    12 Aug 2008
    Posts:
    4,721
    Location:
    California, USA
    Thanks for the review Geomorph. This is a zoo that I would like to visit someday if I am ever in that part of the world and I enjoyed your review. I would have loved to have seen their Amazon dolphin.

    The zoo sounds like an interesting mash-up of African savanna, Monterey Bay, and disappointing primate exhibits.
     
  5. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    28 May 2009
    Posts:
    1,410
    Location:
    Newport Beach, CA, USA
    Snowleopard, your comment confirming the quality of the children's section that I missed makes me regret not visiting the zoo for a second day to see it since I ran out of time on the first day. I was in Pittsburgh for 7 days and should have at least spent an extra morning at the zoo, but at the time I was overwhelmed with things to see!