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Bronx Zoo


Susan Chin, Director of Planning and Design, WCS (author)
Renate Polt and Monika Fiby (editors for ZooLex)
Published 2013-1-13



Wildlife Conservation Society, , 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460
Phone: 001-718-2205100
URL: http://www.bronxzoo.com


spiny forest


Family:Species:Common Name:Capacity:
AplocheilidaePachypanchax arnoultiMalagasy killifish10
AplocheilidaePachypanchax sakaramyiMalagasy killifish10
BedotiidaeBedotia leucopteronWhite-fin rainbowfish10
BlattidaeGromphadorhina portentosaMadagascar hissing cockroaches60.000
CheirogaleidaeMicrocebus murinusLesser mouse lemur3
CichlidaeParetroplus dambabeRed-sided damba83
CichlidaeParetroplus maculatusSpotted damba83
CichlidaeParetroplus menaramboPinstripe damba83
CichlidaePtychochromis sp.Saro cichlid82
ColubridaeLangaha madagascariensisLangaha0,1
ColubridaeLeioheterodon madagascariensisGiant Madagascan Hognose1,1
ColumbidaeAlectroenas madagascariensisMadagascar Blue Pigeon1,1
ColumbidaeNesoenas picturataMalagasy turtledove5,5
CrocodylidaeCrocodylus niloticusNile crocodile1,1
CuculidaeCoua caeruleaBlue coua1,1
CuculidaeCoua cristataCrested coua1,1
EupleridaeCryptoprocta feroxFossa1,1+young
EupleridaeGalidia elegansRing-tailed mongoose1,1+young
GekkonidaePhelsuma madagascariensis grandisMadagascar giant day gecko1
GekkonidaeUroplatus finbriatusLeaf-tailed gecko1
GekkonidaeUroplatus henkeliHenkel's Leaf-tailed gecko5
GerrhosauridaeZonosaurus quadrelineatusFour-lined plated lizard1,1
IndriidaePropithecus verreauxi coquereliCoquerel's sifaka5
LemuridaeEulemur fulvus collarisCollared lemur6
LemuridaeLemur cattaRing-tailed lemur18
LemuridaeVarecia variegata rubraRed-ruffed lemur10
MicrohylidaeDyscophus antongiliiTomato frog3
OpluridaeOplurus cycluraSpiny-tailed iguana14
PloceidaeFoudia madagascariensisMadagascar red fody10,10
PsittacidaeCoracopsis vasaVasa parrot2,2
PsittaculidaeAgapornis canaMadagascar Lovebird10,10
TenrecidaeEchinops telfairiLesser hedgehog tenrec3
TestudinidaeGeochelone radiataRadiated tortoise5,3,4
TestudinidaePyxis arachnoidesSpider tortoise, a.k.a. Pixie tortoise1,2,1


The Bronx Zoo’s Lion House opened in 1903 as a state-of-the art model for large cat exhibits. As standards for animal husbandry and exhibition have evolved, this historic New York City landmark became obsolete and sat empty for over twenty years at the historic heart of the zoo, Astor Court. The 2004 master plan called for the revitalization of the Court and the return of this building to a state-of-the art animal exhibit. An inclusive institutional process involving curators, conservation staff, and many others concluded with the selection of Madagascar as an exhibit that would best exemplify the Wildlife Conservation Society's mission to save wildlife and wild places by connecting people to nature.

WCS has worked in Madagascar for more than thirteen years in site-based programs and on species-level conservation. Sharing this with our visitors and raising awareness of Madagascar’s unique biodiversity became a goal in creating this exhibit.

The Madagascar! exhibit furthers the mission of WCS, connecting people to wild nature and engendering a love for the endangered beauty of Madagascar. The exhibit’s primary interpretive message is: “Madagascar is a beautiful and wondrous place where the principles of conservation are being applied.” Partially funded by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation, this exhibit is designed to teach visitors about the connections between basic science skills and how these skills can be applied to the conservation and protection of places such as Madagascar. Specifically, three main goals of the exhibit included:

1) To share the beauty and wonder of Madagascar with visitors,

2) To help visitors understand how and why conservation science is important to protecting places like Madagascar, and

3) To share conservation science with visitors through inquiry-based approaches.

Three major challenges defined this project: the restoration of a historic landmark, green building, and the creation of an innovative and state-of-the art zoo exhibit. The exhibit is housed in a historic beaux-arts building that became a LEED certified landmark building.

Visitors entering the building are presented with a jewel-like mosaic map of the world highlighting Madagascar’s location. In the Tsingy Forest gallery, they are surrounded by replicated limestone karst formations that extend two stories high in an exhibit for Coquerel’s sifaka and surrounds a terrarium with a Madagascar tree boa. Life-sized bronze lemur sculptures encourage touching, and graphics reinforce the similarities between lemurs and humans. Visitors next encounter is 'Only in Madagascar,' where touching an elephant bird egg reveals the image of a skeleton of the largest bird to ever live on Madagascar and a short film showcases the biodiversity and endemism of this island.

Drawing guests deeper into Madagascar!, the 'Tsingy Caves' introduce one of the island’s most dramatic habitats: a flooded underground limestone cave created by the eroding effect of rivers over thousands of years. Visitors come face to face with a pair of 4 meter Nile crocodiles lounging in a 56,781 liter pool with underwater viewing and hundreds of Malagasy freshwater fishes.

The 'Small Wonders, Big Threats' gallery combines naturalistic elements, live animals, and an immersive HD film experience. An array of Madagascar’s charismatic microfauna, such as leaf-tailed geckos and tomato frogs are displayed at child’s eye level. The exhibits are set into a high-tech "theater-in-the-round" with video simultaneously playing on three screens, showing the threats to and hope for the wildlife of Madagascar. Smaller LCD screens serve as identification labels for the animals in the space, as well as showing these small animals up-close through film.

The 'Spiny Forest' is the largest of the Madagascar! exhibits. Guests enter a bizarre, arid forest of spiny trees found in Madagascar’s dry south and west. Twenty-two species of Malagasy plants including Kalanchoe, Pachypodium, and “octopus” trees were planted in the exhibit and on the public pathway to create a sense of immersion in this unique habitat. Visitors encounter a range of animals, including ring-tailed lemurs, collared lemurs, ring-tailed mongoose, and radiated tortoises. Stepping into the replica of a rotted baobab tree, guests are surrounded by thousands of Madagascar hissing cockroaches behind glass. The 'Discovery Zone', a child-friendly interactive area, provides an opportunity for hands-on exploration and scientific discovery. The 'Observation Station' in the 'Spiny Forest' provides guests with a glimpse of the science behind conservation, showing how scientists use observation of lemur behavior as part of conservation efforts in the wild. Guests can also see juvenile radiated and spider tortoises and how scientists have learned about tortoises through observation.

In the final gallery, guests are immersed in the rainforest of Masoala National Park, critically important to many of Madagascar’s species and a site of WCS’s field conservation efforts for more than a decade. Tree and other plants around a cascading waterfall are home to a group of red-ruffed lemurs. Also within the plants native to the Masoala forest, adjacent to the lemurs, guests discover a pair of fossa and learn about their predatory nature. A mural highlighting the personal experiences of WCS Malagasy field staff reinforces WCS’s commitment to conservation in Madagascar and tells the story of conservation successes in Masoala.

Upon exiting the building, lenticular graphics playfully remind the visitor that they have an important role in conserving Madagascar. A final graphic addresses how saving the forests of Madagascar helps slow global warming. Visitors are invited to donate money and are rewarded with recorded calls from a sifaka or red-ruffed lemur.


Re-using the Lion House involved a complex integration of old structure with new building systems resulting in 623 m² (37%) dedicated to animal support (including holding areas and life support systems) 623 m² (37%) of mechanical space and 446 m² (26%) of exhibit, which includes visitor areas and animal exhibit space.

The primates have access to eighteen holding enclosures that each measure 2.44m width x 3.66m depth x 3.35m height; the fossa have three enclosures each measuring approximately 3.66m width x 3.66m depth x 3.05m height.

Space allocation in square meters:

useindoorsoutdoors     total exhibit    
accessible     total     accessible     total    



USD 11,600,000 including 10 % for design.

Total building cost was USD 48,100,000, thereor USD 3,800,000 being building design and USD 44,300,000 being building construction. Total exhibit cost was USD 11,600,000, thereof USD 1,200,000 being exhibit design and USD 10,400,000 being exhibit construction.


20 June 2008


Beginning: 2002

  • Design and exhibit development: WCS staff
  • Architectural restoration: FXFOWLE Architects
  • MEP engineer: Kallen & Lemelson Engineers
  • Structural engineer: Anastos Engineering
  • Lighting consultant: Hayden McKay Lighting Design
  • Landscape architect: Quennell Rothschild & Partners
  • Acoustic consultant: Cerami & Associates
  • Geotechnical engineer: Langan
  • Life support system design: TJP Inc.
  • Evaluation: Media Transformations
  • Evaluation: Selinda Associates
  • Evaluation: Randi Korn & Associates
  • Media coordination: Scharff Weisberg Association
  • Media coordination: Unified Field


Beginning: 2005

  • Habitat fabrication: Cost of Wisconsin
  • Exhibit fabrication: WCS staff
  • Graphics fabrication: Dimensional Communications
  • Exhibit murals: Dave Rock
  • Planging: WCS staff
  • Illustrator: Laurence Richardson
  • Sculptor: Priscilla Deichmann
  • Mosaic artist: Jeanie Egel
  • Film maker: Archipelago
  • Interpretation program: WCS staff
  • Web development: WCS staff and Unified Field


walter.gif This is a climatic diagram for the closest weather station.



Malagasy spiny and tropical forest plants were planted in the exhibit and on the public pathway to create a sense of immersion in this unique habitat.

The plant list specifies the Latin names of the plants used for this exhibit.


The goal of the design was to exhibit animals in naturalistic surroundings so that visitors will see them engaging in natural behaviors while also providing a high quality of care. The animals serve as ambassadors, inspiring visitors to care about conservation of these species and the places they live.

Species are exhibited in appropriate social groups in environments that encourage exploratory behavior and the expression of species-typical behavior patterns. To augment these stimulating and complex environments, keepers provide the animals with a variety of daily enrichment items. Additional enrichment is offered in the animals’ off-exhibit holding facilities, where animals spend the evenings.

Temporary heat needed to be provided as a backup for the first winter. Due to permitting issues related to new technology, the geothermal wells and fuel cell were not functional by 2012.


Safety of the animals and keeper staff is maintained through strict adherence to standard operating procedures and safety protocols, which are posted in the keepers’ office. All animal night room areas are accessed through secondary safety doors, which also serve to keep non-animal staff from entering animal holding areas. While on exhibit, viewing glass and mesh panels separate animals from visitors. All building life support systems are tied to computers that can alert staff as to their status. Appropriate alarm systems are in place at the entrances to mechanical rooms containing ozone.


Visitor comfort was addressed by making all text easily readable, creating multiple views and using glass rails for visitors of all ages and heights. The exhibit is wheelchair accessible. Interactive elements were designed with minimal maintenance in mind. Live interpreters are available to answer questions or address visitor needs. Visitors can share their photos and experiences of Madagascar! on the WCS website, where the caring for Madagascar continues after the zoo visit ends.


The interpretive program for Madagascar! is an integration of graphics, technology, and interactive learning into a seamless experience incorporating the Malagasy culture, natural history, and ecology. Details of biology, ecology, and conservation science are shared through interpretation developed for varied ages. Tiered labels supply information for all types of learners—strong visuals are paired with explanatory headlines for passers-by, and more detailed body copy is provided for those who want to know more. Graphic elements are designed to encourage children and adults to interact while exploring the skills of inquiry and observation, and concepts such as bio-geography and endemism. “Window notes” at child height on the glass point out an artifact or detail inside the exhibit. These graphic circles are connected by a follow-the-dots trail to a graphic prompt at adult height. This graphic type encourages children-led inquiry, as well as parent-led discovery.

Interactive elements allow for self-guided exploration of basic science skills instrumental in field research. In the Observatory, visitors can see how learning about animals through observation is key to understanding the animals’ needs and, thereby, influences conservation policy. The Discovery Zone is dedicated to hands-on learning to reinforce the basic skills of scientific exploration. Touchable animal sculptures are apparent and accessible to children, adults, and the visually impaired.

Graphics were integrated with the environments by using layered glass, allowing visitors immediate and easy access to information while not distracting from the view. Cultural elements such as the traditional rice symbol were incorporated in the design of graphic structures. Malagasy scientists served as advisors and important voices throughout the exhibit process, enhancing the interpretive messaging through first-hand accounts.

Front-end, formative, and summative evaluations were conducted for this exhibit. The media and interactive elements changed greatly based on visitor feedback—the interactives became more user-friendly, their messages more clear and accessible, and a video that originally focused on the destruction of Madagascar’s habitats was expanded to also show hope, reinforcing our message about conservation work being done. Thanks to this feedback, the summative evaluation shows that 75% of visitors could name one way he/she did science in the exhibit, and many could name the specific threats facing this island and give examples of the work being done there.

To enhance the visitor experience in Madagascar!, a live interpretation program was also developed. In the exhibit, interpreters bring science to life by playing the role of scientist or research assistant to engage visitors. In addition to educating two million visitors a year, the Madagascar! exhibit serves as a living classroom for more children through distance learning programs utilizing cameras in the exhibit.


Animals in Madagascar! are on exhibit during normal zoo hours.

Keepers engage the majority of species in training sessions in off-exhibit holding facilities to provide mental stimulation and exercise, to enhance our husbandry of the collection, and to allow for close physical inspections. The training also reinforces the bond between keepers and the animals.


Formal testing has confirmed high rates of satisfaction with the exhibit. In the summative evaluation, visitors rated the look of the exhibit 6.44 on a scale from 1–7, indicating extreme satisfaction. Visitors rated the videos 5.76 and live interpretation 5.80 on the same scale. Summative evaluation also indicated that there is a statistically significant shift in knowledge and care for Madagascar after visiting the exhibit. Post-visit, guests are more aware of the role that science plays in protecting animals and recognize that they have practiced science skills in the exhibit, one of our main interpretive goals. Visitors who experience the exhibit are more attuned to the threats facing Madagascar.


WCS has been active in conservation for over a decade in Madagascar, resulting in successes such as the protection of critical forest through the establishment of Masoala National Park and Makira protected area. WCS also signed an agreement with the government of Madagascar in June 2008 to allow for the sale of up to nine million tons of carbon for Makira Protected area through the Makira Carbon Company.

In the Madagascar! exhibit visitors are made aware of threats to Madagascar and hopes for its future. Throughout the exhibit, there are opportunities to engage directly in scientific inquiry and discovery, and to learn how conservation happens through this kind of applied science. At the end, there is an opportunity for visitors to donate to conservation efforts.

The Bronx Zoo participates in AZA conservation programs for radiated and spider tortoises, fossa, red-ruffed, ring-tailed, lesser mouse, and collared lemurs, and Coquerel’s sifaka. To date, a Coquerel’s sifaka, a collared lemur, and three red-ruffed lemurs were born at the Madagascar! exhibit. Behind the scenes, spacious indoor holding enclosures enhance captive propagation and accommodate a wide variety of animal enrichment items.


The building was redesigned to be eco-friendly and the first LEED Gold-certified New York City Landmark. Innovative green features save energy and provide a healthy environment for animals. A special dynamic skylight system allows daylight and the natural UV spectrum of light into exhibit spaces for plants and animals and saves energy through the control of sun light. The building will save 57% in energy cost and 59% in water usage over a conventional building. This information is shared with the public through graphics that describe the green aspects of the building and offer tips for conservation at home.

©Wildlife Conservation Society, 2009

Site Plan
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 2009

Coquerel's Sifaka (1)
©WCS (J.L.Maher), 2009

45K + description75K
Entry (2)
©WCS (K.Honda), 2009

51K + description80K
Only in Madagascar (3)
©WCS (K.Honda), 2009

65K + description105K
Tsingy Cave (4)
©WCS (K.Honda), 2009

62K + description100K
Tsingy Cave (5)
©David Sundberg/Esto, 2009

48K + description75K
Small Wonders, Big Threats (6)
©David Sundberg/Esto, 2009

58K + description107K
Spiny Forest (7)
©WCS (S.Chin), 2009

45K + description83K
Spiny Forest (8)
©David Sundberg/Esto, 2009

43K + description75K
Spiny Forest/Discovery Zone (9)
©David Sundberg/Esto, 2009

57K + description91K
Discovery Zone (10)
©WCS (S.Chin), 2009

57K + description98K
Observatory (11)
©WCS (J.L.Maher), 2009

59K + description99K
Observatory (12)
©WCS (K.Honda), 2009

Observatory (13)
©WCS (K.Honda), 2009

63K + description106K
Masoala (14)
©WCS (J.L.Maher), 2009

51K + description87K
Masoala (15)
©WCS (K.Honda), 2009

50K + description84K
Conservation Pathway (16)
©WCS (K.Honda), 2009

64K + description105K
Enrichment (17)
©WCS (J.L.Maher), 2009

45K + description78K
Animal Holding Area (18)
©WCS (J.L.Maher), 2009

59K + description101K
Interpretive Graphics (19)
©WCS (J.L.Maher), 2009

Interpretive Graphics (20)
©WCS (K.Honda), 2009

Interpretive Graphics (21)
©WCS (J.L.Maher), 2009

46K + description108K
Lion House 1903 (22)
©WCS, 2009

Masoala exhibit section (23)
©WCS, 2009

Spiny Forest exhibit section (24)
©WCS, 2009

Crocodile Cave exhibit section (25)
©WCS, 2009



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Revised 2010-07-25
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