ZooLex Logonull.gifa Service of WAZAnull.gif
Sponsored by:null.gifnull.gif

National Zoological Park

Asia Trail Clouded Leopard Exhibit

Kara Blond, Exhibit Developer National Zoo (author)
Monika Fiby (editor for Zoolex)
Peter Kunert (editor for ZooLex)
Published 2007-12-14



PO Box 37012 MRC 5517 , Washington, DC 20013-7012
Phone: 001-0412-2026333279
Fax: 2026734892
URL: http://nationalzoo.si.edu


immersion, sustainable


Family:Species:Common Name:Capacity:
FelidaeNeofelis nebulosaClouded leopard2


    2007 AZA Significant Achievement Award for Exhibit Design

    2007 Honorable Mention in 19th Annual Excellence in Exhibition Competition, American Association of Museums

    2007 Washington Building Congress Craftsmanship Award (for integrated energy efficient lighting)

    2006 Presidential Citation for Sustainable Design (by Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects)


Asia Trail represents the first phase of a 10-year renovation effort at the National Zoo. The 24,000 m² (six-acre) exhibit, opened in October, 2006, provides varied viewing of seven Asian species in habitats designed to encourage natural behaviors. The Asia Trail experience includes nose-to-nose animal/visitor encounters and hands-on multi-sensory exhibits. Innovative materials were selected for sustainability. Anchored on either end by sloth bears and giant pandas, the trail features clouded leopards, fishing cats, Asian small-clawed otters, red pandas and Japanese giant salamanders.

Asia Trail incorporates a series of hidden buildings, tucked under the winding, often-elevated, wheelchair accessible trail that runs approximately 400 meter (one quarter-mile). Special features were designed to draw the animals into public view. The giant panda exhibit, for example, includes a cold rock (cold-water coils run under fabricated rockwork) for visitors and pandas to cool off on hot days—their perches separated only by a thick pane of glass. For the clouded leopards, a warm branch in an artificial tree gives the tropical cats a toasty place to hang out in front of the visitor boardwalk.

The interpretive visitor exhibits take the Asia Trail experience one step further. Photographs, illustration, sculptures and a variety of materials and objects allow visitors to carefully observe animal behaviors and then learn about the cultures and conservation dilemmas from the animals’ range countries.

The landscape design uses durable Ipe wood decking, natural resin-bound aggregate paving instead of asphalt, and a rustic/modern mix of materials (juxtaposing rusted corten steel and bamboo with stainless steel mesh and exposed hardware). Painted steel bamboo is mixed with real bamboo; large artificial boulders and cliffs are designed to mesh with the Rock Creek Park geology. These materials, selected after visits to the countries to be represented in the exhibit, were chosen to reinforce the themes of place and local culture as a significant element of conservation.

Designed as a cohesive immersion experience, Asia Trail incorporates a fogging system to replicate the misty mountains of China, and rivulets of water running across the visitor pathway.

Clouded leopards have not been exhibited at the Zoo since 1980.


Asia Trail has a total size of 24,000 m² (nearly 6 acres) including service and visitor areas.

Breakout of total spaces of Asia Trail: interior animal space ~5%, exterior animal space ~30%, keeper space ~5%, visitor space (circulation/interpretation) ~25%, mechanical space ~10%, other/unused ~25%.

Space allocation in square meters:

useindoorsoutdoors     total exhibit    
accessible     total     accessible     total    



$ 53,000,000 including 7.5 % for design.

Total cost for Asia Trail: design $4 million, construction $42 million, project management $4 million, interpretive exhibits $3 million.


17 October 2006


Beginning: June 2001

  • Landscape Architects: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Charlottesville
  • Architects: Chatelain Architects, Washigton DC
  • Rockwork Design: Rampantly Creative (now Coyle and Caron LLC), Scituate MA
  • MEP Consultants: Ove Arup & Partners Consulting Engineers, New York, NY
  • Structural Engineer: McMullan & Associates, Vienna VA
  • Civil Engineer: W.H. Gordon Associates, Chantilly, VA
  • Interpretation: National Zoo Team, Washigton DC
  • Rockwork engineering/cable structure engineering: Weidlinger Associates Inc, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Trail lighting design: D. Gilmore Lighting Design Inc., Rockville, Maryland
  • Animal pools and streams engineering: Siska-Aurand, Norfolk, Virginia
  • Irrigation design: Irrigation Research, Richmond, Virginia


Beginning: May 2004

  • General Contractor: Hensel Phelps Construction Co, Chantilly, VA
  • Rockwork: Cemrock, Tuscon, AZ
  • Exhibits: Smithsonian National Zoological Park Exhibits Department, Washigton DC
  • Landscape contractor: Ruppert Nurseries, Laytonsville, Maryland


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



More than 25,000 native and Asian plants (many of which are labeled or interpreted) enhance the landscape, creating the look of natural habitats and blurring the line between visitor space and animal space. This emphasizes the connection between people and animals. The plant list gives examples.

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


The zoo built a tall enclosure with several tall trees for the clouded leopards because they tend to be less stressed when they have vertical climbing space. Right up front, a level fabricated branch is heated to provide a perfect perch during winter months. The animals are given access to the exhibit overnight (weather permitting).


The clouded leopards are brought in in the evening for feeding and servicing of the yard. At this time, the animals are trained indoors or in the chute area.


The intended audience for Asia Trail was as broad as the Zoo’s visitorship – local, national and international visitors in family and school groups that represent a range of ages, abilities and attention spans.

The trail is staffed by more than 80 trained volunteers who interact with visitors, introducing them to objects and stories about the animals on exhibit and their native habitats. Keeper demonstrations are performed regularly, including sloth bear termite mound feeding.

Asia Trail is fully accessible for visitors with special needs, with ramps and platforms for wheelchair-bound visitors, readable font sizes and colors, appropriate reach distances for children and the disabled, and seating areas and shade for the elderly and young.

The visitor experiences are encouraged by a variety of spaces – some indoors or covered, some larger for groups to gather or work together, some more intimate sneak-peeks for individuals. Rocks and stone walls serve as seating and large trees and tensile fabric shade structures offer shading. Close-up views give our visitors a chance to observe animal behaviors through glass or across moats.

Label text is informal, fun and easy to engage with. It is often supplemented with visual aids, and was carefully evaluated for age appropriateness during several stages of development.

Thick panes of glass get visitors and animals close. Deep, concealed moats minimize the bulky visual interference.

Teachers use Asia Trail as a tool for talking about biology and conservation. Groups discuss aloud their options at the decision station kiosks, children mimic the sounds and movements of the animals they see and families team up to search for the signs of wild animals along the path.

A balance branch built right into the clouded leopards' exhibit's decking gives children a chance to run along thin "tree branches," testing their balance against the animals'. A fabricated tree with electronically warmed branches is located close to the visitors, because the leopards usually rest there at cooler days.


Asia Trail interpretation is based around three key messages:

(1) Celebrate: Asia Trail animals have fascinating adaptations that help them survive in Asia’s wild places.

(2) Study: NZP’s conservation science has played a key role in learning how to save Asia’s wildlife and wild places by understanding reproduction, population density, behavior, genetics and other factors.

(3) Protect: Human activity has caused many of these animals to become endangered, but humans are also taking action to help save them from extinction. To that end, Asia Trail offers opportunities for visitors to observe animal behaviors, learn about Zoo/Smithsonian research, and explore in situ cultures and conservation dilemmas.

As visitors explore the trail´s exhibits, they can learn about the seven endangered or threatened species and the conservation challenges throughout Asia that impact the animals´ survival in the wild. Interpretive, hands-on exhibits, such as "Notes from the Field" and "Curiosity Stations", show how National Zoo scientists are working to conserve these species and their native habitats.

At "Decision Stations", visitors can use interactive kiosks to explore complex conservation issues and confront the same decisions often faced by wildlife biologists. This infusion of science into public exhibits reflects the Zoo´s commitment to conservation resarch.

More than a dozen Zoo scientists were included in the content development process, as well as keepers, curators, range country conservationists and others to verify information and offer feedback. Two conservation plazas support intensive interpretive experiences, and are framed by large (3.6 m high in most cases) photographs from staff travel to China and India. The content is explicit and literal, including real people, real objects, real stories.


Along with the design and development of Asia Trail, the National Zoo has made a commitment to staffing for maintenance of the systems, animal exhibit areas, and interpretive zones. The personnel maintaining the Asia Trail exhibit on a daily basis include 5 animal keepers, 3 facilities maintenance personnel (At least 1 person to monitor and adjust the water systems each day on days that the water systems are on.), 2 custodians, 1 exhibit maintenance staff, 3-5 volunteer exhibit interpreters, 1-2 Web cam operators and research data collectors.

The clouded leopards are brought into their holding stalls overnight or for feeding, and are trained to a “recall” sound. Each animal responds to this sound and can be brought in from the exhibit for enrichment or to switch animals. Across Asia Trail, additional fine-tuning included door operations, security and research camera adjustments, automatic latches, water connections, drainage and secondary containment.


National Zoo’s scientists have led the field for decades in research about sloth bears, red pandas, clouded leopards and fishing cats. The research program includes studies of behavior, management, reproductive physiology, genetics, veterinary medicine, nutrition, and ecology.

For clouded leopards National Zoo uses and teaches field survey techniques for studying the animals in Thailand and other parts of southeast Asia.

Internal and external (grants and federal funding) financial resources support the science efforts and build capacity for research in range countries. All of these stories are part of the Asia Trail interpretation for visitors and are integral to the storyline and key messages.

The Zoo conducted a series of front-end evaluations in 2000, 2002, and 2003, working with graduate students at George Washington University. At first, studies focused on topics relating to key exhibit species, habitat loss and conservation. Later studies engaged broader issues of Asian geography, specific Zoo conservation activities, and actions visitors can take to advance species and habitat conservation. Zoo visitors are generally knowledgeable about issues surrounding endangered animals and habitat loss. In 2007, the first part of a summative evaluation was completed which was looking at visitor satisfaction. Levels were extremely high, with 72% of surveyed visitors rating their overall experience as excellent or superior. The second part of the survey will look at visitor learning through interpretation on the trail.


All of the species exhibited on Asia Trail are SSP-managed populations (except the Japanese giant salamanders). The sloth bears and clouded leopards are SSP established breeding pairs.

Asia Trail embodies the conservation mission of the National Zoo through the use of sustainable design strategies and environmentally-sensitive materials. The project incorporates innovative features in all LEEDtm categories (US Green Building Rating System: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

• Green roof systems have been installed and planted on the new Sloth Bear Holding Building, the Otter Holding facility, and the Bamboo Storage Shed. Green roof systems reduce and in some cases eliminate the Stormwater runoff from buildings. They also reduce the cooling load on a building by providing additional roof insulation, and provide additional natural habitat to local birds, butterflies, and other creatures.

• Stormwater management includes the use of plant filters along the new access road.

• Wood decking along the Trail is Ipe, a tropical hardwood impervious to insects and rot. The durability of the wood means it has to be replaced less often, resulting in less waste introduced into the environment. This wood is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

• Unprocessed bamboo was used for several types of railing, shading, and decoration along the trail. Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource, which means it does not damage the earth or deplete the earth of nutrients when harvested properly.

• Solar hot water systems were installed on the Panda House Addition and the Sloth Bear Holding Building. These systems use the sun to temper water in the buildings, reducing the energy demand.

• New indoor facilities were designed to maximize daylight as much as possible. Clerestory windows and skylights were used, as well as light shelves that reflect light deeper into spaces. More daylight inside a building means less electricity used to light the building.

• Both the Sloth Bear Holding Facility and the Panda House Addition are partially built into the earth. Using the earth’s mass as insulation helps to keep the facilities cooler naturally.

• Workstations in the new Research Office were specified and built with formaldehyde-free wood products and countertops laminated with linoleum instead of plastic products.

• Energy Star appliances were specified and installed in all new kitchen facilities.

• All cooling systems have been specified and installed without the use of CFCs, chemicals that damages the ozone layer when released into the atmosphere.

Scientists at The zoo´s Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, VA, have successfully bred clouded leopards, and scientists are sharing techniques with captive facilities (such as Thailand’s Khao Keow Zoo) in range countries to help increase and diversify those populations.


• Redevelopment of land previously used at the Zoo, preserving natural land around the Zoo as native forest.

• Locating animal holding and mechanical spaces underneath elevated portions of the Trail, reducing the overall built footprint.

• The project was designed around several large existing trees, providing shade and natural erosion control.

• Trees unavoidably in the way of construction were relocated or replaced; not just in numbers, but by increasing the total diameter-inches on the site as well.

• Felled trees were re-used on site to provide yard amenities for animals on exhibit both on Asia Trail and elsewhere in the National Zoo.

• Natural resin-bound aggregate paving has been installed instead of asphalt on the majority of the Trail. This material uses tree resin instead of petroleum-based substances as a binding agent, and cures through hydration instead of chemical means, which reduces the amount of toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere.

• Reuse of natural rock and fallen logs from elsewhere in the Zoo and trees felled for construction reduced the amount of material being shipped both to and from the project site.

53K + description90K
©National Zoo, 2006

62K + description62K
Site Plan
©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006

©National Zoo, 2006



You are visitor number 11791 to this exhibit presentation.

Revised 2010-07-25
About | Gallery | Service | Firms | Fun | Research