Minnesota Zoological Garden
Russia's Grizzly Coast: Sea OtterSteve Boyd Smith (author)
Annette Gunn; Monika Fiby (editors for ZooLex)
13000 Zoo Boulevard
, Apple Valley
2009 AZA Exhibit Award
The $24 million project replicates the Russian Far East, featuring grizzly bears, sea otters, Amur leopards and wild boars, living on a landscape made up of lush plants, and sprinkled with geysers, lava tubes and mud pots. The project was part of the zoo's long-term plan. The aim of Russia’s Grizzly Coast was to create realistic, engaging, and safe animal environments that replicate their wild habitats and stimulate natural behaviors. This enhances animal health and allows opportunities for visitor education.
Russia’s Grizzly Coast embodies Minnesota Zoo’s mission to “Connect People, Animals, and the Natural World” on several levels. The new exhibit and Central Plaza generate momentum for future projects by placing the animals within a spectacular naturalistic setting. The latter demonstrates the connection between the animals and their wild homes.
Russia’s Grizzly Coast encompasses three biomes within the Russian Far East, defined as 'Pacific Coast', 'Volcanic North' and 'Forested South'. Visitors are immersed in this dynamic place with "active" geology, plant life, animals and seasonal cycles.
The 'Pacific Coast' zone is home to four Northern Sea otters. The exhibit contains a deep plunge pool and an irregular shoreline that encompasses three separate bays. Stadium seating is located at underwater cavern viewing areas. Grizzly bears on their highest rock may be seen from the otter exhibit.
Central Plaza covers another 7486m², 97.9% of which is public space.
Sea otter total area: 123 m² (1368 sq.ft), water surface: 72 m² (796 sq.ft), on-exhibit pool -124919 liters and ranging from depths between 1.83 -3 m, 53 m² beach area. Three holding dens, each with a 1.83m deep pool with 41634 liters, and a total water surface of 60 m² (674 sq.ft) and dry resting areas of 22 m² total (113, 66 and 64 sq.ft).
Space allocation in square meters:
US Dollars 29,566,305 including 11 % for design.For the entire Russia's Grizzly Coast:
Design: $3,166,439; Construction: $24,002,359; Interpretation: $891,482; Other: $1,506,025
Beginning: June 2006
The plant list specifies the Latin names of the plants used for this exhibit.
Enrichment activities and displays keep the otters healthy, both mentally and physically.
Each species’ holding area is divided into two main areas: entry vestibules/service corridors, and the animal containment area. Only animal management staff has access to the containment area. Education, operations, and utility staff have access to the entry vestibule/service corridor areas for tours and maintenance purposes. A customizable electronic key fob controls entry into these multi-use spaces.
A video monitor system with remote access facilitates control of the areas. Hydronic heating on exhibit dry land areas is appreciated on cold icy winter mornings.
There are viewing terraces and lookouts for visitors to get the best chance to see the otters. Staff and volunteers are available to talk to the public.
Seating in the underwater viewing gallery invites visitors to watch the otters playing among themselves or interacting with keepers during a demonstration.
The goals and objectives for this exhibit are to: 1. Increase the positive impressions of the Zoo among members, new guests and the general public. 2. Raise awareness of the Russian Far East and encourage a sense of value and empathy for the animals that live there. 3. Demonstrate the connection between animals and habitats. 4. Raise awareness of the threats facing these animals and the Russian Far East, connect those to parallel threats in Minnesota and provide opportunities and advice for taking action.
There are three ecological zones of Russia's Grizzly Coast. Each of the three zones includes two dominant elements that let visitors know where they are in the Russian Far East. “Gateways” introduce the habitat and the animals within it.
Information on identification, adaptations, conservation status, "Zoo at Work" and "Cool Facts" are present at all animal viewing areas. The panels turn visitors' focus to the exhibit’s affective and cognitive goals without intruding on the immersion experience of the environments themselves. Art-quality images, artifacts, touchable bronze sculptures, stories and signs are all present around the exhibit to enhance exploration and learning.
Focus on three causes of decline of the region’s species (loss of habitat, loss of prey and poaching) is highlighted around the exhibit and addressed by visitors donating to conservation.
Staffing and volunteering was integrated into interpretive planning. Written study guides and “bench talk” programs were featured when training volunteers and staff.
The sea otter exhibit and holding areas were designed to manage up to three groups of northern sea otters.
Salt water is re-circulated through the aquatic system and is maintained at approximately 12.7° C (55° F). Critical utility and flow parameters are monitored 24 hours/day by the zoo’s main alarm system.
The sea otters are managed on exhibit during visitor hours and shifted into the holding pools at night. The otters are fed five times a day and typically one trainer is dedicated to each animal for the feeding and training sessions.
A formal summative evaluation demonstrated that the effect of Russia’s Grizzly Coast was more extensive than attendance to the project’s cognitive goals. Comparing visitors before the press blitz and after opening, the evaluation documented: - 96% of guests say they would recommend Russia’s Grizzly Coast to their colleagues. - Post-visit guests were able to describe animal characteristics in detail. More critically, post-visit guests’ descriptions were likely to mention the animal in relation to its habitat, indicating that the connection between animals and the natural world is taking place. - Comments from post-visit guests have significant amounts of content and vocabulary that match the exhibition labels.
The project was designed in keeping with the Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines, plus LEED standards for the Education Event Center. This meant incorporation of some simple practices ranging from recycling of waste (61% overall) and reuse of trees and boulders salvaged from the site to drilling wells for geothermal energy. Green roofs are used on 1/3 of the flat roofed buildings.
The sea otters at the zoo were wild orphans. A male and female came from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and two additional males came from the Alaska SeaLife Center after being rescued as pups when they were days old. The otters are on permanent loan from the USFWS and are non-breeding.
Through the development of this exhibit, the zoo has increased its involvement in various in-situ conservation programs relating to the animals and places represented. These included grants for research on northern sea otter populations, brown bear research in Yellowstone and Kamchatka, and research in the Russian Far East for species that are not even represented in the exhibit: cranes and Blakiston’s fish owls.
Furthermore, the “Make A Difference” interactive, through which visitors vote with their dollars to support conservation programs for their choice of one of three species, had collected $13,000 after only 9 months of opening.
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