Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Heart of Africa: SavannaKaren Huebel, Director, Theming & Interpretive Design – Planning & Design Department (author for Columbus Zoo and Aquarium)
Barbara Brem (editor for ZooLex)
4850 W Powell Rd, PO Box 400, Powell, OH 43065
flex-habitats, immersion, mixed species, savanna
2015 AZA Top Honors
2015 ENR Midwest Best Cultural Project
2015 LEED Certified Restaurant Building
2014 Experience Columbus EXPY Award
2014 Green Restaurant Association 4-Star Status
The guest is transported with the sights and sounds of a busy village. Entering the region through a hand-painted portico, guests begin their experience at the outskirts of Mudiwa – the replica of a lively, colorful African village, located at the edge of the savanna exhibits. The pathway theming aims at building the anticipation of guests as they begin to explore. A half-dozen bikes or so, laden with empty water jugs have been parked along fences, gates and walls that are covered with hand-painted murals. A camel ride is located on the opposite side of the path. Conservation messaging begins on this pathway as well – for example, a large wooden map of Africa highlights the countries and field projects that the zoo supports.
Once guests have entered Mudiwa Village, they find brightly painted kiosks which define a market area where Fair Trade products from Africa are offered for sale. The Mapori Restaurant serves local, freshly prepared and vegetarian food with some menu items featuring African cuisine. From the village, guests can take in the grassland vista and gaze onto the savanna dotted with clusters of wildebeests, gazelle, ostrich, zebras and giraffes. Beyond the village, guests enter the theme area of Ajabu National Park, where they can enjoy more views of the 3.2 hectare (eight-acre) savanna and the animals that live there. Graphic panels take on the look of a field guide of the savanna animals. A seemingly stranded airplane offers close views of lions. Continuing, guests come across a watering hole in which animals are continually rotated throughout the day; one may see ostrich in the morning only to return in the afternoon to see a cheetah run demonstration.
Further, a walk onto a raised deck allows guest to come face-to-face with giraffe and an opportunity to feed the herbivores. Around the corner, guests arrive at Jack Hanna’s campsite where they have an unobstructed view of the monkey exhibit.
The landscape mimics the savanna grassland with pockets of trees scattered throughout the animal habitats and public area spaces. More than 40 trees have branches at up to 5.5 meters (18’) above the savanna floor to shade the giraffe while trees with lower branches, protected from the giraffe, shade smaller hoof stock.
In the distance, a hill with scrubby plants completes what appears to be an endless savanna, and screens views of the adjacent residential neighborhood and perimeter fence system.
The Heart of Africa was designed with several project goals and interpretive outcomes in mind: to bring giraffe and zebra back to central Ohio; to create fun, exceptional guest experiences that offer inspiring conservation success stories and that feature Jack Hanna as the virtual “tour guide”; and to develop a region of the zoo that exceeds current standards and trends for animal care and management, and fiscal and environmental sustainability.
Space allocation in square meters:
US Dollar 30,810,498 including 8.50 % for design.Construction – 83.60 %; Site Furniture, Equipment, Etc. – 4.8 %; Interpretive items – 3.10 %
Beginning: May 2011
Beginning: March 2013
The plant list specifies the Latin names of the plants used for this exhibit.
The savanna size encourages species-appropriate behaviors and encourages exercise. The adjacent watering hole allows individual species a location for increased activity and added opportunities for exercise.
A series of moats, mud banks and riprap “dry riverbeds” create barriers that are invisible to guests. These barriers keep animals in their respective habitats. A moat between the lion habitat and the savanna separate the animals but allows them to see one another and provides the guests a unobstructed view across both habitats. A 10’ (3m) perimeter (8’ (2.4m) chain-link, 2’ (0.6m) hotwire) was installed at the base of the hill at the back of the habitat.
The hoofstock and giraffe holding buildings allow animals to be shifted into buildings and from one habitat to another in multiple ways, and provides versatility of outdoor holding spaces. The barns have Cira skylights which allow natural light into the barn, save energy, and provide animals with natural UV rays, and a Lixit drinking system.
The giraffe holding barn contains nine stalls and one large community room with decomposed granite flooring, slow feeders, and high moveable hayracks on an anti-slip pulley system.
Shift-ways and transfer chutes allow animals to be shifted on and off exhibit in the Water Hole Habitat throughout the day.
In the giraffe barn, a shift-way runs half the length of the barn that allows for moving and transferring animals on/off trailers. It also houses a giraffe restraining device (GRD) used to ensure keeper and giraffe safety while performing procedures like blood draws, injections and hoof care. A mezzanine running the length of the barn ensures keeper safety and provides important training opportunities at the height of the giraffe.
Food storage and prep rooms are located in each barn.
Each species is trained to shift to a unique recall sound, and different entry points are used into the barn decreasing the potential for accidents upon animal entry and exit.
The watering hole shift-ways allow keepers to shift the cheetah, warthogs and other species without keepers present in the runways. This allows quick transition as species are rotated.
The area east of the giraffe feeding pavilion has a large wall where keepers can train with the giraffe while the animals remain on view.
The giraffe feeding habitat provides guests the opportunity to view and feed the giraffe. The raised boardwalk provides the guests an eye-to-eye experience with the giraffe. Guests can also view the savanna and the watering hole from the elevated boardwalk. East of the feeding pavilion, guests can see into an area where special events take place.
There are two food stands in addition to the main restaurant; restrooms on either side of the region; smaller carts for beverages/ice cream; separate smoking areas on either side of the park; keeper talk locations; hand wash stations near giraffe feeding; shade panels for viewing in comfort; misters for hot days; exterior and interior seating at the restaurant; nursing station for mothers with infants; speaker system for keeper talks; and glass viewing inside the restaurant of both the lion and savanna.
Watering hole shift-ways were designed to allow keepers to shift the cheetah, warthogs, and other species without their presence in the runways.
Each species is response-trained to shift to/from areas of the exhibit and to indoor holding areas to ensure animal safety, to allow keepers to manage the animal safety, and to prevent overgrazing. Birds do not shift off exhibit overnight. Birds are trained for wing presentations as well as scale training.
Zoo security personnel monitor temperatures in animal holding areas, assure all doors and gates are locked, and maintain a secure perimeter. Emergency medical workers (EMS) providers are on-site during guest hours while first aid / CPR / AED certified security staff is available during non-visitor hours. A fire detection system is monitored 24/7.
Results across the board showed that guest reaction to Heart of Africa was very positive and the exhibit did, in fact, meet all of the goals. 93% of participants indicated that their expectations were met or exceeded. When asked about messaging, the most common response focused on animals – whether it was learning about animals, appreciating animals, working to save endangered animals or that Africa has beautiful animals. Other common topics were conservation and life in Africa in general. 65% of participants indicated they remembered seeing conservation-related elements as part of the Heart of Africa exhibit. They primarily remembered seeing interpretive signs relating to recycling, endangerment status among the different animals, the different conservation organizations the zoo supports, etc. 39% attended an animal demonstration, 31% had an interaction with a docent or Zoo Aide, 29% attended a keeper talk. Attendance increased by 473,320 guests or 23.7%. The average stay time in the Heart of Africa exhibit among adults with children was 54.38 minutes.
The Zoo features 11 complex, on-going wildlife conservation efforts related to the African savanna animals that are on display for the guests. Over $420,000 has been donated to in-situ conservation projects related to savanna species. Interpretive tools focusing on these projects are incorporated into the guest experience in a number of ways including themed signage, interactive elements and dimensional props.
During the design and construction process, on-site efforts were catalogued in the following areas: recycle / landfill program, water efficiency, indoor environmental air quality, materials and resources, energy and atmosphere and sustainable sites. Construction recycling for the entire Heart of Africa site exceeded 91%.
The Mapori Restaurant was awarded a 4-star Green Restaurant Certification in 2014, and LEED certification was achieved in 2015.
The lion moat as well as remote moats at the perimeter containment of the savanna serves as temporary water detention basins.
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