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Bronx Zoo

Congo Gorilla Forest

Sue Chin (author), Monika Fiby (editor)
Published 2002-1-11



Wildlife Conservation Society , 2300 Southern Boulevard , Bronx, New York, NY 10460
Phone: 001-718-220-5100
Fax: (718)733-7748
URL: http://www.wcs.org


Congo, colobus, conservation, gorilla, guenon, okapi, red river hog


Family:Species:Common Name:Capacity:
13 speciesInvertebrates
19 speciesFish
Ceratogymna subcylinoricusGrey Cheeked Hornbill2
Cercopithecus wolfiiWolf's Monkey7
Guttera pucheraniCrested Congo Guinea Fowl4
Nettaplis auritusAfrican Pygmy Goose2
Phoeniculus purpureusGreen Wood Hoopoe2
Python sebaeAfrican Rock Python1
Varanus ornatusOrnate Nile Monitor1
CercopithecidaeCercophithecus neglectusDe Brazza Monkey7
CercopithecidaeColobus guerezaBlack and White Colobus4
CercopithecidaeMandrillus sphinxMandrill7
GiraffidaeOkapia johnstoniOkapi3
PongidaeGorilla gorilla gorillaLowland Gorilla25
SuidaePotamochoerus porcusRed River Hog2


    2001 Assoc. of Zoological Horticulture Conservation Award

    2001 Industrial Design Excellence Awards

    2000 AZA Exhibit Award

    2000 International Wildlife Film Festival's Best Non-Broadcast Film

    2000 New York City Art Commission's Design Excellence award

    1999 American Association of Museums' Exhibition Excellence Award


Congo Gorilla Forest is the most ambitious project in the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) 104-year history. This 6.5 acre (2.7 ha) exhibit complex at the Bronx Zoo focuses on Central African wildlife and habitats and the scientific efforts to study and conserve this imperiled environment. The exhibit offers visitors a unique opportunity to directly impact African rain forest conservation by designating their admission fee to specific WCS field projects.

It is home to 400 animals of 55 species, including one of the largest breeding groups of lowland gorillas in North America. The Congo Gorilla Forest includes a two-story primary structure that houses animal management spaces, public exhibit galleries and the Flaherty Learning Center. There are five major exterior animal habitats for black and white colobus monkeys, gorillas, okapi with crested guinea fowl and mandrills with DeBrazza's monkeys and red river hogs.

In addition, there are 26 interior animal exhibits, including 17 small aquaria and terraria, larger habitats for African rock python, Nile monitors, and an African fish community aquarium. A skylighted space is divided into habitats for wolf's monkeys and a mixed group of african birds (silvery-cheeked hornbill, black crake, pygmy goose and green wood hoopoe) and fish.

The Flaherty Learning Center occupies 5000 s.f. (450 m2) of the main buildings' second level, and provides treetop views of mandrills, gorillas, birds and other wildlife from within special classroom and teacher training facilities.


Total area of exhibits 25,900 m2

Space allocation in square meters:

useindoorsoutdoors     total exhibit    
accessible     total     accessible     total    



USD 43,000,000 including 11 % for design.

Total costs include $5 million for design


24 June 1999


Beginning: 1990

  • Conceptual Design, Exhibit Design & Fabrication, and Graphic Design: WCS Exhibition and Graphic Arts Department, Bronx, NY
  • Landscape Design and Planting: WCS Exhibition and Graphic Arts Department, Horticulture Department, Bronx, NY
  • Architect of Record: Helpern Architects, New York, NY
  • Graphic Design- Conservation Showcase, Upper Great Apes and Conservation Choices: Lyons & Zaremba, Boston, MA
  • Computer Programming: Cybermedia, New York, NY
  • Feature Film Production: Archipelago Films
  • Murals: David Rock, Artist, Santa Fe, NM


Beginning: November 1996

  • Construction Management: Humphreys & Harding, New York, NY
  • Exhibit Fabrication: Jolly Miller, Seattle, WA
  • Mesh Enclosure Design & Installation: A thru Z Consulting, Tucson, AZ


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



The landscape of the Congo Forest exhibit evokes the look and feel of the lowland tropical rain forest of equatorial Africa while featuring the unique plants upon which gorillas, mandrills, okapi and other animals depend. Over 14,000 plants of 400 species have been planted, many of which have never before been grown in the New York area. They range from 50 foot tall trees to delicate ferns custom grown for the exhibit. Many African plant genera, including Celtis, Diospyros and Vitex will be seen. Visitors will pass plants commonly found in the African forest : African tuliptrees with garish yellow flowers; African oil palms which are of great commercial value but whose fruit gorillas avoid precisely because of the high oil content; Ensete, a wild species of banana; and Draceanas, which many of us grow as houseplants. Both the forest and marsh habitats frequented by lowland gorillas have been recreated. Gorillas are able to forage for food in their exhibit as they would in the wild. The complex plant adaptations to tropical rainforest conditions are represented. The great variety of unusual fruiting trees and shrubs highlights the role of primates as seed dispersers. Adaptations to the low light of the forest floor are seen in leaves that are red in color, or spotted , or oversized. The predominance of trees with large simple leaves having elongated tips or with compound leaves obscures the great species diversity of this forest. To create the feeling of the dark forest, giant artificial trees and miles of artificial vines have been built and the living landscape has been carefully planned to complement the artificial one. Visitors will leave the forest trail and enter the exhibit building through "Fern Canyon," twelve foot high eroded mudbanks (artificial) clothed in a variety of living ferns. A new vertical planting system was developed and tested to create this feature. The experience of the forest will be heightened by roiling mist and the forest sounds of insects, bird calls, and other ambient sounds.

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


Elements of Congo are designed to stimulate animal behavior in a way that complements the exhibit's naturalistic presentation and to make it more readily observable by the public.

Large numbers of flexible vines worked into the matrix of artificial, living and deadfall trees, allow for responsive locomotion and creating aerial "highways" at primary viewing locations in all primate exhibits.

Feeding opportunities are built into the environment in several ways. In the Colobus, Mandrill/Hog and Gorilla exhibits, automated food dispensers are hidden in or behind rocks and trees in areas close to primary public viewpoints. A central control system allows animal managers to set and vary the frequency and timing of food dispersal. A large strangler fig/host tree in one of the gorilla exhibits incorporates a feeder that can be loaded from a door at a convenient height off of the ground, which transports the food items to the treetop, where a series of pipes randomly distributes the items to four different outlet points encouraging gorillas to climb. Artificial trees in all of Congo's exhibit areas have been outfitted with hidden holders, permitting freshly-cut browse to be placed within the context of the forest, where primates can eat while perched and okapis can be seen extending their remarkable tongues in reach of tender new growth. One of the most unique feeding opportunities in the exhibit is an artificial termite mound, built on both sides of the viewing glass and containing a remotely-operated mechanical feeder. Food is released into a hollow portion of the termite mound located on the visitors' side of the glass (actually an opening below a diagonal section of glass frame). To get at the food, the gorilla's must reach into the hollow, their hands entering the public side of the mound, where another angled piece of glass prevents the obvious. The sight of a gorillas hand inches away is quite dramatic, but even more exciting has been the way some of the smallest gorillas use the mound to climb above viewer's heads, and sometimes even crawl into the hollow to play "peek-a-boo" with visitors.

Another major design consideration was creating attractive microclimatic areas near viewing areas. An enormous hollow Ceiba tree constructed at the glass in the Great Apes Gallery provides shade, has heated pads built into the floor for cold days, and is cooled on hot days via a duct leading from the public space air conditioning system. The tree serves as part of the barrier system between the two gorilla exhibits, and contains a hidden transfer door that can be used to move individuals or groups from one space to the other, creating the opportunity for enrichment through rotation.


The daily husbandry management of this complex multi-species exhibit is carried out by 6 Mammal Department keepers working as a team to exhibit and care for the 55 species.

Special features were incorporated into the Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit and holding areas that enhance keeper safety and provide for close management of the animal collection. Five key elements are: (1) 32 closed circuit TV camera mounts and 16 cameras placed throughout the holding areas and exhibits to allow for remote monitoring of the animal collection, particularly when they are in their spacious outdoor habitats; (2) welded mesh steel doors in holding areas that allow for partitioning the building and keeper visibility into animal alleys prior to entering these areas; (3) a building-wide smoke detector and sprinkler system for fire safety; (4) no dead-end corridors; (5) double doors or gates at all entrances to the primate facilities.


A 1600 lineal foot (about 500 m) public experience includes the following elements: The Rain Forest Trail, an initial outdoor immersion pathway.

The Living Treasures of the Congo Gallery featuring 21 exhibits of small animals, each illustrating a significant scientific word or phrase.

The Interconnected Forest Gallery which offers views of outdoor mandrill/red river hog and indoor Wolf's monkey and aviary habitats.

The Threats to the Forest and Conservation Showcase containing interactive and audio-visual exhibits featuring WCS conservation efforts in Central Africa.

The Conservation Theater featuring an 8-minute film, shot on location in Africa, dramatically demonstrating conservation strategies in action. At the film's conclusion, the screen rises and curtains part, revealing a lush outdoor hillside with a family of gorillas through a wide expanse of glass.

The Great Apes Gallery offers panoramic and intimate views of two troops of gorillas; visitors exit the Great Apes Gallery via a glass-sided tunnel-Gorilla Encounter-that penetrates directly through a section of the larger outdoor gorilla habitat.

The Conservation Choices Gallery where visitors are encouraged to engage in conservation decision-making. Each visitor may select a specific aspect of an ongoing WCS African rain forest conservation project to support with their exhibit admission.


Congo Gorilla Forest was designed to reach a broad and diverse audience. Marketing studies and an in-depth formative evaluation conducted by People, Places and Design provided the planning team with information on audience needs and levels of knowledge regarding the exhibit subject matter.

With significant National Science Foundation support, a front-end study and eight formative evaluations were conducted to gauge comprehension and effectiveness of various exhibit elements including two interactive exhibits, a CD ROM program and an eight-minute feature film.

As a result of close examination of the audience, the exhibit layout and interpretive elements directly address the questions, interests and knowledge base of our visitors. Although summative evaluation is currently a work in progress, anecdotal information, informal observation, visitor comments and press reviews have shown that many visitors are responding positively to the Congo Gorilla Forest experience.


One of the primary goals of this exhibit was to strengthen our gorilla breeding program by building spacious naturalistic exhibits and holding facilities capable of housing two large groups of gorillas.

The management objective entailed a combination of lush spacious habitats and roomy sky-lit bedroom areas for each troop to return to in the evening, creating an environment that would improve animal welfare, enhance the expression of species-specific behaviors, and ultimately increase reproduction.

Off-exhibit Animal Management spaces include: two tall, skylighted gorilla community dayrooms, eight interconnected shift spaces, two gorilla quarantine spaces, three outdoor gorilla holding cages , seven mandrill/guenon holding spaces, two smaller mandrill/guenon isolation areas, two outdoor small primate yards which can also be used by red river hogs, four interior red river hog stalls, five interior okapi stalls , and two outdoor okapi yards.

A keeper office, gorilla nursery, locker rooms, storage areas, kitchen with walk-in freezer and refrigerator, and mechanical spaces are also part of the complex.


See Interpretation


Congo Gorilla Forest aims to change the way people think about wildlife and conservation. A lush environment created with thousands of plants, a carefully constructed soundtrack of rain forest sounds, and fabricated trees, lianas and rockwork allows people to see, smell and hear a rain forest. Compelling graphics and interactive exhibits teach animal science, rain forest natural history and conservation stories. Up-close encounters with fascinating animals-gorillas, red river hogs, okapis and mandrills-allows people to develop a connection and compassion for wildlife in Africa.

But it is the final experience offered in this exhibit that takes our guests to a place no zoo visitor has gone before. After engaging them in the beauty and wonder of the animals, and informing them about the threats to the animals and their habitats, we then provide each visitor with a way to respond and to do something.

The Conservation Choice-an opportunity to pick a specific conservation project to support with the admission fee-is not only a new experience at the Bronx Zoo but new for all zoo/museum exhibits. Over $3 million in direct support for African rain forest conservation has been raised by this exhibit since opening day.

Congo's spacious habitats and flexible holding spaces will enable the Bronx Zoo to participate in and strengthen commitments to SSP programs for gorillas, mandrills, DeBrazza's monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys and okapis.


59K + description87K
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 2001

Site Plan
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 2000

Gorilla (1)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

68K + description98K
Fallen Tree (2)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

83K + description106K
Colobus monkey (3)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

34K + description52K
Okapi (4)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

51K + description93K
Fern Canyon (5)
©Rob Halpern/Zoo Horticulture Consulting, 1999

45K + description79K
Treasures of the Congo Gallery (6)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

30K + description30K
Interconnected Forest Gallery (7)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

87K + description102K
Red river hogs (8)
©Rob Halpern, 2000

27K + description49K
Threats Gallery (9)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

42K + description55K
Conservation Showcase Gallery (10)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

50K + description73K
Conservation Theater (11)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

39K + description64K
Up close gorilla encounter (12)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

53K + description75K
Gorillas in Trees (13)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

29K + description31K
The Gorilla Encounter (14)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

38K + description70K
Conservation Choices Gallery (15)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999

45K + description59K
Flaherty Learning Center (16)
©Wildlife Conservation Society, 1999



You are visitor number 36683 to this exhibit presentation.

Revised 2010-07-25
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