Join our zoo community

San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tiger Trail Review

Discussion in 'United States' started by Otter Lord, 21 Aug 2014.

  1. Otter Lord

    Otter Lord Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    13 May 2009
    Posts:
    635
    Location:
    San Diego, CA, USA
    I just got to go home and check out the Tiger Trail at the Safari Park. I decided to post a little review for everyone so people can get a detailed look at the new exhibit. I've added photos to the gallery that can help you follow along. I hope you enjoy my take on the new exhibit.

    The entry to the new exhibit is right off of the bridge that used to be right next to the WGASA bushline station. You arrive at a circular walkway that forms a planter with a fig tree in the center. This entry has a donor wall with some artifacts in glass cases. The artifacts add to the overall Asian style of the trail, but they're there for looks, not education. To the right of the donor wall is the gateway to the new trail. My remarks about the gateway: "looks neat, its not tacky." I could go on with a lot more detail, but that's all I have to say about that.

    There is no walkway down to the overlook for the elephants anymore. To the left of the entry, there is a walkway leading to Condor Ridge.

    From the gateway there is along straight path with bamboo planted on both sides. The pathway terminates at a tiger statue at the end. The overall feel of the bamboo forest is very pleasant. There are mist machines and ambient sounds while the shade makes it feel very cool. The statue at the end is one of the few elements that seem out-of-place and a little bit unrealistic. It seems like an abstract piece that was not done by a South East Asia artist.

    From here, the bamboo forest stops and the walkway wraps around a few times before reaching the first exhibit and log walk. I would have wished the bamboo forest was incorporated more into the landscape here. The straight path with bamboo on the sides seems artificial, and in my mind the bamboo forests in Oklahoma City Zoo, Jacksonville, and some botanical facilities were much better because of their depth and walking experience. What also bugs me here is that there are donor benches that seems haphazardly placed. The walkway is not very wide and some are placed half on the walkway and half-not. I cannot imagine someone sitting there to rest white staring at a shotcrete wall or a wall of plants. If my review is starting to sound nit-picky, these are just things that I think about. I'll be more positive, I swear.

    Log Walk: The walkway continues onto the logwalk which occurs right before the first exhibit. The logwalk is a pleasant experience as you follow a narrow of series of steps to the first viewing area. Decor here is very nice and the small-scale makes it a nice separate experience. The railings for the logwalk are exceptionally creative and new; while the shotcrete logs are just adaquate. At the viewing area, there is a small extension of the longhouse on the rightside, which serves as holding access for the tigers.

    Playground: the playground is just after the logwalk but before the Pondok. There is a walkway on the left side that takes you to it, but you have to return there to go onto the exhibit. The theme of the playground is a logging camp with all sorts of elements that show evidence of a logging taking place.

    Pondok: This is a very pleasant viewing area with split level underwater viewing. There are a lot of poaching-related animal goods that are incorporated into the Pondok. There would be a docent here to explain a lot of these issues here on a normal day, but there wasn't when I was here. The signage didn't really help people understand why they were there though.

    The walkway then goes in between the first and second exhibits until the Sumatran longhouse. The landscaping here is very well done. I was afraid the exhibits would be too small, but the landscape is so dense with palms and cycads that you lose the boundaries of the exhibits. Most of the exhibits have a mesh fence with an overhang, but they really recede with the plants. The plants make finding tigers a lot harder, but its more like trying to spot them in the wild. With three enclosures, you are always guaranteed to see at least one.

    Longhouse: The Sumatran longhouse is exceptional. It is really well themed, it looks aged and real. The interior is very nice and I saw a lot of people sitting to watch the tigers in the exhibits around them. The gift shop inside of it is not too zoo-esque that it takes away from the experience. There are added bathrooms at the end which are incorporated with the architectural very well. One of the weird things about it is that there is a mining shaft going under the building. The second exhibit has a mining shaft entrance for tiger holding entrance and it goes right underneath the building. I'm no miner but that's not how I would do it.

    The third exhibit is right after the Sumatran Longhouse. You look down into the exhibit from a waterfall. The shotcrete detail on the waterfall is not very good, there are already issues with it leaking. There were calcium deposits already on the rock. It made the whole experience of viewing through the waterfall impossible because of plenty of water dripping on your head. This exhibit has received a lot of the hype, but it is probably my least favorite. The viewing is very difficult because of the angle, and the planting of course makes it worse. There are no canopy trees, so it does not feel like a forest like whereas the other exhibits do.

    After the tigers, the trail terminates where the old lion viewing would be. However, the viewing area was demolished and replaced with landscaping. There is some viewing of the Przewalski's exhibit on the hillside and there is a sign that says something about journeys through Asian Savannas coming soon. Some visitors did not understand what that meant.

    Most peculiar about the trail, is that there is a new walkway leading up to Condor Ridge. It starts at the end of Tiger Trail and wraps around the hillside to the entrance of Condor Ridge. See Gallery for photos, but its a nice walkway that overlooks the valley beneath Condor Ridge, what used to be the Lion exhibit. There is a section that juts out like a viewing area. It is a nice walkway and adds more possibility to the design of whatever is next in the area.

    OVERALL EXPERIENCE:

    Overall, I think this exhibit is really good. Its not the best at storytelling, but its a very pleasant experience in the park. I like how it was woven into the existing conifer forest which makes the exhibit feel like a rainforest. The styling was really good and it is up to par with Lemur Walk, the Bat exhibit, and changes to Nairobi Village. I always admired the park because of how realistic its cultural elements were, which I find goes back to the original design of the WGASA bushline station and Nairobi Village. The Sumatran Longhouse really attributes to that continuing Wild Animal Park feel.

    However, the exhibit is not a traditional park exhibit, but more like an urban zoo. This is because of how dense tiger trail is. its not open and with wide areas of landscaping like Lion Camp or Heart of Africa. If you were to look at the site plan, it really is quite small.

    Whats really exciting about the Tigers is that it is a good launching point for doing more in the space beyond it. The space between Africa and Asia really needs a revamp to connect the two. There is plenty of space for the typical large landscaped WAP exhibits, so I do not mind that Tiger Trail is dense. To repeat myself, the feeling of looking for tigers through the forest feels like the wild. Hopefully the vegetation holds up in the California drought.
     
  2. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    1 Dec 2007
    Posts:
    15,454
    Location:
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    Thanks for a great review and for uploading photos into the gallery. The buzz I've heard from 3 fellow zoo nerds is that Tiger Trail is an impressive addition to the park and much more worthwhile than other recent developments (bats and lemurs). Still, I wonder what might have been as originally the plans were more far reaching by including Asian deer and other species into the various exhibits.
     
  3. jbnbsn99

    jbnbsn99 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    3 Feb 2009
    Posts:
    6,254
    Location:
    Texas
    When I saw it back in June, I was completely impressed. It is by far the biggest tiger exhibit I've seen, and one of, if not the best exhibits I've personally seen.
     
  4. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    12 Aug 2008
    Posts:
    4,031
    Location:
    California, USA
    Thanks for the review.

    A couple questions:
    1. What is "shotcrete"?

    2. How hard is it to get to a good view of the elephants now that they have shut down the trails that used to get there? It seems odd that the elephants are hard to see, seeing as they are one of the park's major attractions - one of the major casualties of the loss of the monorail. I wonder if they can fix this?
     
  5. Shellheart

    Shellheart Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    19 Mar 2013
    Posts:
    318
    Location:
    San Diego,CA
    You can still see the elephants by walking through the stadium and by the Roar n' Snore tents.
     
  6. Otter Lord

    Otter Lord Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    13 May 2009
    Posts:
    635
    Location:
    San Diego, CA, USA
    To answer your first question David, shotcrete is concrete that is shot onto caging. I think they use air, but it depends. Its used for mostly rocks and mudwalls at the zoo, but it can be carved and colored to represent a lot of things.

    I wouldn't say its the best tiger exhibit out there, but it is very different. There aren't any real large glass viewing areas like most tiger exhibits like Tiger River or Tiger Mountain. At Tiger Trail, you walk along the path and the tigers just appear and vanish. Its due to the large plants that sit in front of the fence and block viewing and the fact that the exhibits are long and linear. I am not sure if that was the intent, but its the only thing that makes this exhibit different from most tiger exhibits.
     
  7. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    1 Aug 2010
    Posts:
    4,670
    Location:
    Melbourne, Aust (ex. NZ)
    I quite liked Tiger Trail, the exhibits were good and the theming impressive (and surely cost 90% of the budget). I hadn't realised the lion exhibit used to be in the valley below, nor that there used to be an overlook of the elephants there.

    It is very crowded, given its small area, and it had a fairly cramped feel, especially for that zoo (wouldn't have been as bad in an urban zoo). It will be interesting to see how they incorporate more Asian animal exhibits into it, especially for larger species, given that the valley is so far below it. Are they likely to install a second elevator set-up to get people down there? Surely that's the only place they can put many of the hoofstock exhibits?
     
  8. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    10 Feb 2009
    Posts:
    6,176
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    Having spent the last two days at the park, I can now give my impressions (as a cat fanatic) of the exhibit. (Not that anyone necessarily cares what I think, but here it is like it or not :p).

    At over 19 million dollars, it is certainly the most expensive tiger exhibit ever built. Does that mean it is the best tiger exhibit? I would say, probably. I think it is the best I have seen (although I should note I have not seen Bronx Tiger Mountain).

    First of all, having three separate yards all filled with tigers makes it a winner in my book. Tigers (like all cats) sleep a lot and you are now three times as likely to see at least one awake. A volunteer also confirmed that all cats are rotated into all exhibits, which I think must be stimulating for the cats as well.

    All three yards have a different design which I find very interesting. There are multiple viewing areas as well. Viewing is done either through black mesh fence or glass (in the main house). The black fencing, which is the largest percentage of viewing, is actually quite nice for photography and a telephoto lens can blur it out. In fact, I found this preferable to the glass as my few attempts through the glass resulted in a blur due to the imperfections in the thick safety glass. For normal viewing the glass is fine and with a wide angle lens probably fine, but a telephoto picks up the distortion. The third yard has no glass.

    At this time of year (mid November), the park closes shortly after sunset. If you are at Tiger Trail at closing (as I was both days), you will see the exhibit lights go on, both in the yards and in the visitor areas. This is a really nice feel and I will post some photos in a couple days. On my first night I was still up there at 5pm (when I should have been at the exit gate ;)) and walked out with chatting with the very friendly French security guard. One of the tigers in the first yard followed us and even though it was closing, the guard told me I could go down the log walk to look for the cat through the window. He was crouched in the darkness staring at us and I used a pocket LED flashlight and a fast (f/1.4) fixed 85mm lens and high (4000) ISO to get a shot. Lots of fun!

    In conclusion, Tiger Trail is great and for cat lovers it is worth making a special trip just to see.