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Edinburgh Zoo

Oriental Small-Clawed Otter Exhibit

Monika Fiby (author)
Graham Catlow (editor)
Published 2003-8-14
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UP LOCATION:

Murrayfield , Edinburgh , EH12 6TS
Phone: 0044--0131-334 9171
Fax: 0131-316 4050
URL: http://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/who.htm


UP KEY WORDS:

animal health, behavior, ecology, solar


UP ANIMALS:

Family:Species:Common Name:Capacity:
MustelidaeAonyx cinereaAsian Small-Clawed Otter15


UP DESCRIPTION:

It was decided that an old beaver enclosure would be converted into a new spacious enclosure for otters. Asian otters are very active and diurnal, so they make good zoo attractions. Because Asian otters, unlike their European counterparts, live in large groups of up to 20 individuals in the wild, the enclosure was designed to hold a large number of animals (up to 15 individuals). The layout of the site on a slope remained the same as before, including natural bedrock, plants and pools.

A team of specialists from different departments created the new enclosure for this popular species. The team, comprised of animal managers, veterinarians, educators, keepers, and horticulturists, developed the enclosure with several objectives: improve the welfare facilities for this species; allow the animals to express their normal and natural behaviours; replicate their natural habitat in the wild; increase the land mass for a larger group of animals; to deliver a project that uses natural materials which are green, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. The Property and Estates staff worked with the keepers to develop all the technical specifications, complete the drawings, and cost the entire project with a realistic time plan for delivery.

The team came up with an effective and "green" solution to heating water by using solar energy. The animals were provided with 4 underground dens. The entrances of the dens are hidden from the view of the public to provide privacy for the otters. However, cable conduit has been installed into the dens for the provision of video cameras which will allow visitors an unobtrusive peek inside. A stream connecting the pools is powerfully flowing, which means that when food is thrown in at the top of the stream, it is carried down into the pools where the animals must search for it amongst the pebbles. Water is continuously flowing through a series of waterfalls and pools from the top to the bottom, and is then recycled via underground channels back to the top. A new timber fence replaces the former barrier except for an existing stone wall on the lower edge of the perimeter.
 

UP SIZE:

Space allocation in square meters:

useindoorsoutdoors     total exhibit    
accessible     total     accessible     total    
animals
visitors
others
total0500500

 

UP COSTS:

GBP 17,000 including -1 % for design.

Design and construction (except for the solar system) was completed in-house. Building material has been sponsored by Telewest Communications plc. The Solar Energy Systems have given a reduction in the installation cost for the solar energy system.
 

UP OPENING DATE:

June 2002
 

UP DESIGN:

Beginning: July 2001

  • Design: zoo staff, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
  • Solar Energy System Design: Kerr McGregor, University of Edinburgh

UP CONSTRUCTION:

Beginning: February 2002

  • Solar Panels: Solar Energy Systems, Fife, Scotland
  • Construction: zoo staff, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
  • Landscaping: zoo staff, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

UP LOCAL CONDITIONS:

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

 

UP PLANTS:

The goal of the project was to replicate the natural habitat of the animals. Plantings of bamboo and ferns complement the flowing stream. Trees, such as willows, were also chosen to reflect a wet area. Some interesting willow species were used. Poplar, willow, and elder berry plants existing on the site were retained. They offer autumn color. Winter interest is provided by the evergreen Temple Cedar. Three cherry trees were added by the horticulture department. The otters bite leaves off the bamboo for use as nesting material.

Planting and landscaping was completed by the Training for Work trainees under the supervision of their trainer and the Curator of Horticulture.

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


UP FEATURES DEDICATED TO ANIMALS:

The animals were provided with 4 dens supporting their natural lifestyle of nesting in rocky crevices or burrows in the ground. They do not make these burrows themselves, but utilize those that other animals have previously made. The otters use all four dens at various times. The entrances to the dens are made from 1 meter-long pipes. These pipes lead to 1 squaremeter sleeping areas which are 0.5 m deep, heated, insulated, and ventilated. The floor of the sleeping dens is lined with artificial turf. Hay is provided for nesting.

The stream was made to be fast-flowing, which helps build strength and adds excitement for the animals. It also means that food is washed up into the rocks on the shore, requiring the animals to search for it as they would in the wild. They also forage plants for invertebrates.

Otters have been known to suffer from kidney stones when kept in water that is too cold. They tend not to drink enough water when it is cold, so that their kidneys are not flushed-out properly. With this in mind, one of the pools in the enclosure is heated.

The exhibit is large enough to hold a natural-sized group.
 

UP FEATURES DEDICATED TO KEEPERS:

Metal doors in the ground allow keepers access into the underground dens for cleaning and replacing hay.

On two sides of the exhibit a double-gate allows keepers access while protecting against otter escapes. The space between the two gates can be used to store supplies.

One of these service areas is also used to feed the animals. For this purpose the otters pass through a transparent plastic tube which can be closed on both ends and removed. The tube then serves as a squeeze cage for animal treatment.
 

UP FEATURES DEDICATED TO VISITORS:

Two enclosed viewing areas offer protection from the winter cold. The viewing area at the top of the exhibit is a cantilevered structure with two large windows. The glass is placed at an angle to reduce glare. This structure offers good all-round visibility of the exhibit. The second structure offers views both to the stream and lower pool of the otter enclosure as well as into the meerkat exhibit. A third viewing area is not covered. A number of small windows were cut into the fence to provide easy viewing to children and people in wheelchairs. In the future, video cameras will give visitors a peek inside the animal dens.

Keeper talks are given on a regular basis.
 

UP INTERPRETATION:

Interpretative signage was designed by the zoo's education department and is aimed to be suitable for all visitors, including small children and people with disabilities.
 

UP MANAGEMENT:

To manage the large group of animals easily, a corral system was designed, into which the otters are occasionally encouraged with food. The animals must pass through a Perspex tube to enter the corral where the food is. This tube is removable and can be used to catch specific animals for examination or transfer. The otters are brought into the off-exhibit corral only for feeding (this conditions them to passing through the tube) but remain in the outdoor exhibit at all other times.

The stream was made to be fast-flowing, which helps build strength and adds excitement for the animals.

One of the pools is heated by solar power. An electric fence along the inner base of a wall is also solar powered. This fence prevents people from trying to touch the animals. An overhang along the timber fence does the same.
 

UP RESEARCH:


 

UP CONSERVATION:

Solar energy is used to heat one of the pools. This is an economic, aesthetic, and environmentally-friendly solution. Solar collectors were placed on top of the east viewing shelter. Fine tubes bring water from the small lower pond up and over the panels, heating the water before it is fed back into the pond. Solar electric cells provide the power for the pump that circulates the water. This system, unlike most solar systems, does not suffer from freezing temperatures and does not require antifreeze. Thus, the system is efficient, cost-effective, and simple. An additional small solar panel provides the energy to run the electric wires which serve to prevent the animals from getting within reach of the public.
 

UP LOCAL RESOURCES:

Natural bedrock was used to enhance the exhibit. All building material was locally available. Construction was mostly completed by trainees taking part in the Zoo's Horticulture and Fencing Training Programmes.

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Overview
©Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, 2002

 
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Site Plan
©Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, 2002

 
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Oriental Small-clawed Otter (1)
©Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, 2002

 
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Stream (2)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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West Viewing Window (3)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Child's View (4)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Burrow (5)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Burrow Entrance (6)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Keeper Access to Den (7)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Doors to Corral (8)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Tube to Corral (9)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Removable Tube (10)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Slanted Windows (11)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Large Enough for 15 Animals (12)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Solar Panels (13)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Solar-Powered Electric Wires (14)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Visitor Shelter (15)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Educational Sign (16)
©Monika Fiby, 2003

 
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Natural Behavior (17)
©Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, 2002

 
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Young Otters (18)
©Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, 2003

 

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