Piano-Wire Fence: keeping the focus on the animal not the barrier by Martin

A piano-wire fence creates an inconspicuous and unobtrusive barrier between visitors and animals.

I recently saw a very tall example of a piano-wire fence at the Raptor Roost in the Albuquerque Zoo (ABQ Biopark). It's probably the tallest piano-wire fence I have seen in any zoo.

It's easy to see why it makes such a great barrier. The focus of my camera never picked up the fence and instead went right through to what matters: the animal.

While I was sorting out the photos for this post I had some ideas to improve the layout of the exhibit. The shape of the building could parallel the visitor's sight line - this would reverse the exhibit layout.

The way it's built the visitor looks against the back crossbeam (red arrow). On the right I show an alternate version:  the crossbeam has been moved above the visitor's sight line which keeps the view clean and is less distracting. And it makes the space higher where it matters for the animals: in the back of the exhibit where the nests and perching sites are located.

The front facade is needlessly high. Photo below: the visitors standing in front of the exhibit would have to throw their heads way back to see the beam above.

The front facade only needs to be around 15 feet tall for the crossbeam to be out of view.
15 feet would be still an impressively tall piano-wire facade and it might avoid one of the disadvantages of every piano-wire fence: the longer the wires the easier they are to bend apart, creating an escape route for animals if they challenge the barrier.

In order to keep the animals at Raptor Roost from parting the piano-wire a horizontal wire has been woven into the fence about 12' above the ground (photo above).
The animals living here aren't much of a challenge for the fence: Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, American Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus, and Andean Condor Vultur gryphus.

I also noticed the bottom girder.

This would be easy to hide, either with plants or by simply covering it in dirt and rocks as shown below.

Here's another view of the bottom girder (labeled Original).
I photo-sketched an improved version below the Original.

Here's the complete list of improvements:

1. Cover up the bottom girder by raising the earth.
2. Reduce the amount of railing posts by half; change them from metal to wood.
3. Place tree trunks in front of the frame columns.
4. Change the pavement from concrete to earth (or it could be stamped concrete, but in either case something less formal than in the original photo).

Summary: I reduced the architecture and softened the overall look with warmer tones and natural elements to make it look less urban.

Below: a photo-sketch animation comparing the original photo and my improved version.

An equally efficient way of hiding the beam is with plants. And plants can be an advantage for the animals because even a narrow planting strip might translate into less stress for the animals.
(Here's a link to a study that discusses this issue.
The study,  by Durham University with Chester Zoo, found that planting a meter-wide barrier of shrubs between the visitors' viewing platforms reduced the animals' stress-related behavior by more than half.)

For some part the girder is already hidden behind plants (this can be seen in the opening photos of the this post).
Overall I noticed what a great job the horticulture department did. Not only in this exhibit but throughout the zoo. Which isn't surprising because I was told the Biopark's Botanical Garden is in charge of the planting.
Once again this shows that a good horticulturist is best defense against an architect.

To end with the focus back on the piano wire, here's a photo from further away. The piano-wire fence doesn't even show in this photo - only the frame work does (a change link fence would stick out much more).

Here's a photo from another vantage point. The shrub and trees help to conceal and soften the framework.

Piano wire fence is easy on the eyes but demanding on the material. For it to work the wires need to be tightly wound which puts a lot of stress on the high tensile wire and all supporting parts.
But not to have the view obstructed by heavy fencing is worth the cost.
photo copyright unless otherwise noted 2015 Martin Schuchert

Bald Eagle - sketches by Laura Hamilton

Successfully concealed tree collar at the cheetah exhibit in the Albuquerque Biopark by Martin

Tree collars wrap tree trunks in an exhibit to prevent animals from climbing out.

At the cheetah exhibit at the ABQ Biopark I saw a successful attempt to conceal an especially large tree collar.
Usually tree collars are made of sheet metal, which is just painted black, green or some generic camouflage color. This can work if the collar is high up and out of view.

But here the collar is in plain sight and it's huge. Someone took the time to paint the metal in a way that mimics the color and pattern of the tree bark, making it disappear. Or, if not disappear, making it less noticeable and less distracting. It worked very well. It looked even better in real life than here in the photos.

Below a photo from the years when I lived in Ohio. Our neighbor tried  to keep the squirrels out of the trees with sheet metal tree collars while we put squirrel feeders up in ours. A good example of how ugly and distracting the metal can be.

Children's Paths: A How to Guide by Martin

A children's path is a secondary path that winds around the main path creating an element of excitement, activity or discovery. It's geared towards children but laid out so that adults can walk along and participate.

For the children's park at the AllwetterZOO in Münster, Germany, we created a few guidelines to help us design this type of path. I've found these rules helpful in later projects.

Rule #1: The children's path follows the main path (Schematic sketch below).

The paths are simplified and straightened for illustrative purpose 
Parents that don't want to take the children's path can stroll along the main path pushing strollers with toddlers or pulling empty carts, while their kids are weaving along the children's path.

Children's  Park; Zoo Münster
A level of control is maintained by making sure that the children's path always ends up back on the main path and ahead of the parent, and by establishing visual connection points between the paths.

Therefore the path never does the following:

It never backtracks, so the child doesn't end up behind the parent, and it doesn't branch off into other areas or jump ahead.

Instead the path always returns to the main route and follows the visitor flow, and it has visual contact points along its route.

It doesn't matter in which direction the visitor flow streams. By making the layout easy to understand and follow we make it it predictable; "Where's our kid?" "Don't worry he'll cross our path in a second". Peace of mind for the adult is the goal here.

Rule # Mark the entrance(s) in a way that signals "Children, this is for you"!

At the Münster Zoo we placed a sign and colorful markers made of twisted locust branches at the entrance to each children's path.

We marked the entrance to each path segment with a willow arch just tall enough for a person in a wheelchair to pass through. Kids could run right under it, but adults had to bend, which brings me to the third rule:

Rule # Scale it down to kid size - but allow adults access as well.
The arches already designate the kid-scale. Next we reduced the width of the path to give it the feel of a foot trail (about three feet wide, just enough for a wheelchair to pass), and we scaled down other elements and spaces. The intended feeling: This is for kids. The photos below illustrate this concept.

Above The handrail is at a perfect height (kid scaled) while adults would have to reach down.

Above The railing into the wolf exhibit is lowered to children's height.

Above The a tree trunk over the path: kids can walk through, adults have to watch out.

Rule #4  Make the path an adventure.

Above  A wobble-bridge

Above Climbing over rocks

Above Climbing over to a hidey hole beyond

Each path segment has its own highlight and multiple attractions that are designed specifically for each animal and location.

To keep the path wheelchair accessible all physically challenging activities can be bypassed.

We also used varying substrates along the paths including bark mulch, sand, wood trunks, and rubber along climbing elements, to set them apart from the main path and to give it a more rugged, adventurous feel.

To add to the sense of adventure the children's path is largely hidden from the main path. At certain highlights and whenever a child faces a challenge there is visual contact with the main path to allow the kid to share the accomplishment: "Mom, look at me!" This also to gives the parent an element of control.
Elements of a children's path: Entrance arches and highlight with visual contact to main path.
Rule #5    Keep the focus on the animal
Keeping the focus on the animal should be the bedrock rule for any designer working in a zoo setting.

The danger is that a children's path with its adventurous offerings can become a distraction and a world in itself.
But if designed correctly it can be a sneaky way to bring the child (and parent) back to the exhibit  again and again resulting in additional viewing opportunities for more discoveries of the animal and its behavior.

At the wolf exhibit at the Children's Park at the Münster Zoo children can see the animals from different vantage points and from different locations - each with a different feel - keeping the viewing experience interesting and fresh.

The photos below show two of the children's path special viewing points.

Wolf observed from a look-out tower

and observed through large cracks between rocks (no glass.)

By changing the viewing point from lower or higher than normal, by adding some activity, or by changing the ambiance, we can keep the viewing experience of the same animal and the same exhibit fresh and exciting.

A children's path offers something specifically for the younger visitor. It is filled with discovery and adventure and can be shared within the group and through the generations.
This can mean more time spent at the zoo, and most importantly (for the children) time spend filled with fun and activity.

The photos in this post are all from the Children's Park at the Zoo Münster in Germany. I designed this exhibit in conjunction with the inhouse zoo team of Johannes Deiting and Dag Encke in 2005.

Engaging the Visitor by Martin

Immersion exhibits have traditionally allowed the visitor and animal to be in the same environment. The visitor is 'immersed' in the animal's habitat with viewing points along the path.

We challenged ourselves in the yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula) exhibit at Nuremberg Zoo in Germany, to immerse the visitor in the animal's habitat and in its activities.
Martens like to play - so do visitors. Climbing up to look around, eating, splashing in water, hopping along stones - all of these activities could be shared experiences.

Our starting point was to give the martens a rich and varied exhibit that would allow natural behavior. Then we mirrored these opportunities for the visitor. In effect we built an extra large exhibit and cut it in half with one side for the animal, and the other for the visitor.

On the marten side a small stream runs into a pond,

where the animal can...

copyright Dr. Helmut Mägdefrau
wet its snout,...
copyright Dr. Helmut Mägdefrau
or its feet..
or dig for food.

On the visitor side a stream crosses the path,...

...allowing the visitor to step in and play...

or dig around under rocks.

A large, old oak stands in the center of the exhibit. Its branches create an elevated path for the martens. The high branches are a favorite look-out point for the animal.

We took the visitor along an elevated path to a great look-out point. On a raised platform the visitors can see eye to eye with the animals in the tree.

The martens run through the branches in all seasons and at all times of the day.

copyright Dr. Helmut Mägdefrau

They also enjoy stumps and limbs on the ground.

copyright Dr. Helmut Mägdefrau

copyright Dr. Helmut Mägdefrau
Wood stumps for visitors to climb on.

The animal chute between exhibit areas is hidden by this stacked wood. It gives kids another spot to climb. 

Stepping stones are not only for kids and animals.

Even visitors beyond their teenage years enjoy stepping away from the trodden path

Outdoor dining is another shared activity.

The zoo has a public feeding once a day.

Located near the marten's feeding place is a viewing shelter.

(Rocks for the kids to climb and jump on while parents sit on the bench)
A picnic table and bench allows visitors to take out their sandwiches and a thermos and enjoy eating and watching the animals.

Creating opportunities for visitors to step away from the asphalt path - to climb, to hop, to take off their shoes and splash - means more time at the exhibit and more time to see the animal and its behavior.

More time spent at exhibit means more time spent at the zoo and that can translate into repeat visits.

Play time and discovery opportunities are a chance for families to interact, which was the main goal for coming to the zoo in the first place.

This exhibit opened in 2008 through the combined design efforts of the Nuremberg Zoo, Führes Landscape Architects, and myself.
copyright Dr. Helmut Mägdefrau

International Vulture Awareness Day 2012 by Martin

On last year's International Vulture Awareness Day I showed examples of how vultures are presented in zoos around the world.

During this year's travels I saw three examples that are different from what I showed last year:
  1. Jungle Park in Tenerife which has a show arena like a soccer-field.
  2. Zoom Zoo in Germany where the vultures live in a very, very large savanna
  3. Prague zoo with a huge walk through aviary
Jungle Park is located on the Spanish island, Tenerife, which is part of the Canary archipelago off the coast of Morocco. Originally the Park was called Parque Las Águilas - (Park of the Eagles). The old name is fitting as it is famous for its raptor show.

Photo above: A king vulture Sarcorhamphus papa flying past visitors during the raptor show.

A vulture might appear stiff or gangly when it's sitting, walking, or standing, but in flight it looks amazingly acrobatic. Nothing is more captivating than an active animal.

Only a few visitors came on this is Friday afternoon, but we were in for a treat as we all got close to the birds.

A Griffon vulture sees eye to eye with me.

Vultures are large but when they spread their wings they become even more impressive - especially close to your head.
Below the vulture is flying inches over the spectators.
King vulture flying over spectators

Photo above: Visitors duck their heads when a king vulture flies just inches above them.

The show area looks similar to a soccer field except that it's round. The grassy field in the center is hemmed in by concrete steps where the spectator sits. Two round stone-clad towers stand about 30 feet tall at opposing ends and serve as take-off and landing points for the birds.

 Photo above: Two Marabu storks Leptoptilos crumeniferus fly from one of the towers and come my way (see the red arrows - you might need to click on the photo to enlarge it to see the birds).

 Photo above: A vulture ready for take off. Trainer and bird are on top of the tower.

The show ended with a finale of heroic music and  many other birds entering the arena.

I uploaded two video clips on YouTube (here and here) that give you a better overview of the show arena.

The next example is from Zoom, a Zoo in Germany.

Like Jungle Park, Zoom also changed its name in recent years. Formerly called Ruhr-Zoo, the zoo underwent a complete makeover in the last decade and is now called ZOOM Erlebniswelt (ZOOM World of Experience) .

The vulture exhibit at Zoom is an open-top exhibit and it is huge.
In the photo above I marked a griffon vulture with an arrow.  This is the first view towards the vulture area on top of the hill in this large, mixed species Africa exhibit.

When you walk up the visitor path you get a closer look towards the vulture hilltop, as shown below.

I was there at an unfortunate time because keepers were working where the vultures usually hang out.

Photo above:  The snag and rock pile in the middle is for vultures, but when I was visiting, keepers worked there and one of the vultures moved out to the right (red arrow). The visitor can come closer than I'm standing in this photo. There is a viewing area to the left just outside the photo frame.

Photo above:  Another view toward the vulture hill from along the visitor path. I marked the vulture area with a big arrow.

The zoo was founded in 1949 and was known for its large mixed species African savanna exhibit. The new zoo carries on the tradition of a large African Savanna exhibit.

Map of Savanna exhibit at ZOOM Erlebniswelt. A Zoo in Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Map above: In the center is the African savanna exhibit, that is divided by a rhino barrier wall.

The hoofstock and birds, including the vultures, are to the right (1.7 hectares or 4.2 acres) and the rhinos are on the left (an additional 0.5 hectare or 1.2 acre.) The barrier wall confines the rhino but is perforated to allow the more slender animals to pass back and forth.

The  satellite photo below shows the same area as the map above does. Because it is to scale and shows more detail it will give you a better idea of how big the space for the animals is.

The lower right portion of the photo depicts the rhino area  (yellow line = barrier wall)

Animals that share the exhibit with the vultures:
Greater kudu  Tragelaphus strepsiceros
Sable antelope  Hippotragus niger
Springbok  Antidorcas marsupialis
Common eland  Taurotragus oryx

Ostrich  Struthio camelus
Marabou Stork  Leptoptilos crumeniferus
and of course
Griffon Vulture  Gyps fulvus

In theory the vultures could also venture over to the white rhino  Ceratotherium simum area just as all of the hoofstock can. 

Foto: © ZOOM Erlebniswelt Gelsenkirchen www.zoom-erlebniswelt.de
A boat ride allows the visitors to see the animals from the lake.

Photo above. A vulture near the water's edge.

I took these photos from the boat with the visitors' heads in the foreground.

Vulture bullied into shrubbery by sable antelopes - the rope in the photo belongs to the theming of the boat.
Photo above: Two Sable antelopes (A) bullied a vulture into the shrubbery near the lake shore.
The barrier however worked quite well and there was a point where the antelope couldn't push any further. The visitors in the background and we on the boat watched the spectacle with fascination.

At some point one of the birds (B) had had enough and chased the antelope (A). I can't remember and can't make out in the photo if it was the Marabou stork or one of the Griffon vultures that made the bold attack.
Here a close up:
Photo above: An UFA (unknown flying animal) chasing away a sable antelope.

The spokeswoman from the zoo told me that it is normal for the eland antelopes and zebras to give chase to the vultures when the vultures leave "their" area. However in the past they had an eland antelope that allowed A male vulture to ride it. That friendship ended when the antelope died and nothing like it has happened since.

The large space of the enclosure and the interaction of different species made this exhibit interesting to view.

The last example comes from the Prague Zoo.

The great thing about the raptor exhibit in Prague is that you can enter it and see the vultures (or other raptors) without distracting fencing or glass.

From above the exhibit looks like this:

From the ground:

And from atop the hill like this:

The raptor aviary is not pretty or light and the metallic green color does nothing to conceal this fact.
But what I love is that visitor can enter the exhibit .

You can only enter a small part of the aviary, technically its not even part of the same construction. It's a wooden building extension (shown above); a red arrow shows the visitor entry route.

Once you are inside it looks like this (photos above and below)

The visitor area looks like this:

Not much to it, but once you lean on the railing you have a spacious exhibit in front of you.

You can see the railing on the lower right side of the photo above; it doesn't look very kid-friendly but I remember that they had a large step for children. I'm not sure how good viewing is if you are wheelchair bound.

Red Kite Milvus milvus spreading its wing on a tree snag
I didn't understand why the snags, which are always popular hang-out places for the birds, were placed so far away from the wooden-viewing area. There were also not enough snags, and they where placed in a way that the girders were behind them, making it difficult to take good, nature-like photos (see photo above).

In addition to snags or other perching places, a patch of sand or running water near the visitor viewing would have also helped to get the birds closer to the visitors. In other aviaries at the Prague Zoo they have this (they have an impressive amount of  walk through aviaries - definitely worth seeing). Maybe there is a reason they didn't do it here or maybe this exhibit is old and nobody gave much thought to the visitor experience back when it was built.

Four bird species share the aviary:

1. Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus,  also known as the White Scavenger Vulture or Pharaoh's Chicken

2. Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus also known as the Black Vulture, Monk Vulture, or Eurasian Black Vulture

3. Black Stork Ciconia nigra

4. Red Kite Milvus milvus

The Egyptian Vulture sat on the ground at the far end of the exhibit away from the walk-in visitor observation hut where I took the photos above. But it wasn't for shyness that it was so far way, because it was standing close to a group of zoo visitors right across from it (see photo below).

Visitors looking at Egyptian Vulture.
This small wooden observation hut made a big difference in my viewing experience.

Of course the experience was  heightened for me because I'd just had lunch at the cafeteria where I discovered that I could draft my own beer right next to the self serve soda pop fountain - in the best of Bohemian tradition.



You can find last year's post to celebrate Vulture Awareness Day here.

Mixed species exhibit including tanagers and poison arrow frogs by Martin

This week in the Zoo-Biology-Group forum someone asked whether tanagers can be kept with poison arrow frogs.
Nuremberg zoo in Germany does keep them together in their newly opened (2011) Manatee House.

You can see the manatees in the center of the photo swimming in this arm of the pool; the animals are half hidden behind the water's reflection and the vegetation in the foreground. Frogs and birds and other animals share the above-water space with the visitors.

Water surface and land area amass to about 700 square meters (7500 square feet).

copyright Dr. Helmut Mägdefrau
A pair of Red-legged honeycreepers (Cyanerpes cyaneus)

A Turquoise tanager (Tangara mexicana) at the feeding station.

A honeycreeper and a turquoise tanager sharing space at the feeding station.

copyright Dr Helmut Mägdefrau
 Meanwhile in the underbrush:  a golden poison dart frog  (Phyllobates terribilis)

An Anthony's Poison Arrow Frog  (Epipedobates anthonyi) is sitting on the visitor path.

I could hear the frogs during my visits and their calls created a tropical and exotic flair. So even if you can't see these animals they help to enhance the experience for the visitors.

Of course they are a real hit when the show up.
I remember a bunch of visitors hovering around the frog with fascination and concern: Will somebody step on it? - So far I haven't heard that this has happened.
You might have to click on the photo to enlarge it to see the golden poison dart frog at the lower right half of the photos.

The birds breed, and so do the frogs. In the photo above you can see tadpoles swimming in the water bowl on the far left, and an adult frog sits about mid center. Click on the image to enlarge. 

There is one more frog species and a couple more bird species sharing the Manatee House.
copyright Dr Helmut Mägdefrau
The Red-eyed Treefrog (Agalychnis callidryas), stands alone as the only frog species in the Manatee-House that is not part of the poison dart frog family (Dendrobatidae). I didn't hear or see it, probably because it is nocturnal; I have Dr. Helmut Mägdefrau to thank for the cool photo above.

As for the other birds, there is the Croaking Ground Dove (Columbina cruziana), of which I couldn't get a photo but I could hear at times, and a pair of  Ringed Teals (Callonetta leucophrys).

On the mammal side:
copyright Dr Helmut Mägdefrau
Two bat species have their home in the Manatee-House. Above a Pallas's long-tongued bat (Glossophaga soricina) eating nectar, something most visitors won't see, but you do see them hanging on the ceiling near the entrance as shown in the photo below.

Photo above: Visitors are standing in the entrance amongst a tangle of vines (real vines, but dead) and are pointing out the bats to each other.
The white-faced sakis (Pithecia pithecia) can go all over the Manatee House but they prefer one corner near the leaf cutter ants' nests.
Visitors can come very close to the monkeys, like in the photo above, where they are not further than 5 feet away. I had one jump over my head about 2 feet away.

There are other animal species and of course, there are manatees  (Trichechus manatus). I was part of the design team and I plan on following up this blog entry with some of the other features and species of the Manatee-House and especially with photos that show the underwater viewing.

A Wood Railing by Martin

Recently I came across this photo of a red haired woman homo sapiens and her red haired Irish Setter Canis lupus familiaris standing on red bark mulch and watching a group of red haired orangutans Pongo pygmaeus.

I took these photos at the Allwetterzoo in Münster, Germany.

Many German Zoos allow you to bring your dog on to the grounds -  just as you can bring your dog into most restaurants (Who needs a doggy bag?).

This is what you see if you stand directly at the railing and look into the exhibit.
view from the railing into exhibit
And here you can see what the railing looks like in the winter without so many visitors.
You might have noticed how comfortably the woman with the dog was leaning on the handrail (it's a real tree) and how the glass allowed for easy viewing into the exhibit even from further back .

The glass railing makes it especially easy for children in strollers to look into the exhibit.
This photo shows the railing from the exhibit side. It's good to see how much the visitors enjoy leaning on a real wood handrail.
What makes the railing unusual is that the glass and the handrail aren't in the same plane.
Photo above: the handrail sits in front of the glass pane, keeping the visitors about a foot back from the glass. And keeping sunglasses and babies from falling into the exhibit. It may also help to keep the glass cleaner.
It's about a four meter drop from the top of the railing into the moat. The moat is the playground for the otters.

Real wood feels great to touch and never gets too hot, but it does rot, and I'm not thrilled to see this detail where the wood connects directly with the concrete:
However, this could easily be fixed. And fixed in a way that the branches can be changed as they wear out.

When you scroll through all the photos you'll notice that some of the railings have bark and some are bare. The railings had bark when the exhibit opened, but three years later I visited and they were bare. Depending on the visitors, peeling bark - and throwing it into the exhibit - could be an issue.
However, wood is aesthetically pleasing. This photo shows another railing at the same exhibit. A standard aluminum handrail would have been artificial and distracting here.

The wood handrail keeps the colors and materials in the exhibit to a minimum and the focus on the animals.

The design was done by Rasbach Architekten in Oberhausen, Germany. I worked on this exhibit before I left Germany for the US. You can read more about the exhibit at zoo-lex.org.

Bats for a Halloween photo op by Martin

I saw this clever photo opportunity at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida. The kids are hanging from the ceiling - seemingly. All I had to do was turn and crop the photo.
Here is the original:
At the very right of the photo you can make out the arm of the kids' mother taking the photo.
The photo op is next to the entrance of the fruit bat exhibit.
Looking at the first photo with the two girls hanging upside down, I find the floor boards disrupt the illusion of the kids hanging from the ceiling. To remedy this I would paint the floor in the same color as the wall, and maybe treat the ceiling with floorboards.
This quick Photoshop-sketch shows what I mean: the floor resembles a ceiling and the ceiling resembles the floor.
Of course you can also crop the floor boards out of the photo. This is the first photo from the post, but while taking out the floor makes the illusion more realistic I find the missing feet distracting.

The sign with the big text also helps to support the illusion; and allows you to market your zoo or conservation message cheaply and easily. Think of how many friends and family members will see this photo on the family blog, Facebook, a wall calendar, or in a scrapbook.

A few years ago, an online German zoo magazine was complaining about the nonsense of having Halloween in zoos. Zoos in the US have successfully stretched their season with these celebrations. They've both created more money and spread their conversation message to more people.
"We own Halloween" a speaker declared at the 2007 AZA conference in Philadelphia. Indeed, a visit to the zoo around Halloween seems to become a new tradition for many families. And this photo op is a great way to share your conservation message; especially if your zoo is planning a Pumpkin path, or a Boo at the Zoo event. Maybe your art department could crank out a photo op as shown above in a couple of days if you make it out of plywood  instead of FRP. After all, bats aren't just a Halloween icon - 2011 is the Year of the Bat.

Below are few interesting links that fit the topic.
The WAZA already prepared a flyer filled with fun facts ready to print out and post next to your photo op.
The official Bat of the Year site:
Bats are found nearly everywhere and approximately 1,200 species account for almost a quarter of all mammals. Nevertheless, in recent decades their populations have declined alarmingly. Many are now endangered, though they provide invaluable services that we cannot afford to lose. 
Louisville Zoo plans World's Largest Halloween Party
Ghosts and goblins will be taking over the Louisville Zoo on weekends throughout October.
More than 80,000 people are expected to attend what is billed as the World’s Largest Halloween Party.
"we own Halloween"
"Face it," said Kelly, Zoo Atlanta's CEO. "We own Halloween."
Indeed, goose bumps are good business. As Zoo Atlanta prepares to unveil "Boo at the Zoo" this evening, other zoos and aquariums around the country also are opening their gates to give folks the creeps.

Unique underwater cylinder with 360 degree viewing in an African Penguin exhibit by Martin

October 8th is African Penguin Awareness Day.  To celebrate this day I want to share a feature in an African penguin exhibit that brings visitors and penguins closer together: a unique 360 degree all-acrylic crawl-through viewing cylinder. You can experience this crawl-through cylinder at the recently opened Penguin Playhouse at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

wild-design was part of the design team with the architecture firm HHCP and Ripley's Entertainment in-house designers.
That modesty disclaimer out of the way: the tunnel is awesome! It's a one of a kind feature that offers lots of fun for kids (and adults - if they dare). Check it out yourself, or let me show it to you here.

Two penguins swimming over the all acrylic cylinder
This crawl-through cylinder is unique because there is no flat horizontal glass floor in the round tube. Usually walk-through or crawl-through cylinders have a flat floor. This absence of glass - and any other support structure - creates amazing transparency, as you can see on the photos. Only diving gets you closer to the animals.
Below is a photo looking back to the entry. I picked a couple photos without visitors to show you how transparent the tunnel is.
The acrylic floor feels softer and warmer than glass, which makes it better for crawling on, and because the floor is chemically bonded it doesn't have any joints i.e. there's no silicon edge along the glass seam. It is completely smooth and allows you to slouch down the wall towards the floor.
Kids slouching in tunnel
A few other details make this tunnel unique, but before I get to them, let me show you how this cylinder fits into the visitors' path through the exhibit.
If you follow the main visitor route, indicated by the orange arrow, you first encounter a large viewing panel, curved at one end and crowned by three large monitors at the other. Once you turn the corner to continue through the penguin exhibit, you can branch off into the crawl-through cylinder; marked here by a small red arrow.

I took this short clip from the main window. First you see the above water view into the exhibit then the camera dips down below the water level pointing towards the crawl-through cylinder.
Here the underwater view as a photo:
The bright reflection on the cylinder is not visible from inside it
Most adults won't see the cylinder from here because their eye level is too far above water level, while kids eyes are usually right around the water's surface. The path slopes slightly down to increase the water depth and allows adults a better view into the pool.
When they turn the corner visitors can leave the main visitor path and enter into the crawl-through cylinder thereby entering a secondary path. Mostly children do it; and this is where they can explore, have an adventure on their own, but still interact with the adults on the main path.

The interaction between the child and adult happens when a kid pops up in the vertical cylinder at the end of the crawl-through cylinder and, of course, they get a great close up view of penguins.
Children popping up in the middle of the exhibit next to penguins
Parents taking photos of their kids in the pop-up cylinder (orange arrow)
From a different angle during a keeper talk
From the pop-up cylinder the kids continue through another underwater viewing tunnel.
Children crawling along another penguin viewing tunnel

Kids looking at penguins above them
This second crawl-through tunnel is a candy-cane shaped acrylic panel that offers a 90-degree view to the pool. It is located on the penguin's fastest route between their nesting ground and the pool, therefore sightings of overhead penguin crossings are common. Here you can see what the children above are looking at:

The bird above is ready to hop out and is standing in about 2.5 inches (6cm) of water.
When the wave machine is off, as during the keeper talk, the water is so calm that you can watch the talk from underneath the water.
Children watching the keeper talk from underwater
Penguins standing on acrylic panel

The children's path ends here and merges with the main path.

I will continue this narrative and why this tunnel is unique with more details in a follow-up post.

Meanwhile, and in celebration of African Penguin Awareness Day, I'd like to promote a couple of links that fit the occasion.

At the WAZA website (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) you can find out what zoos and aquariums are doing to help African Penguins.

In South Africa, the penguin's native habitat, SANCOOB is helping these birds with a multitude of projects in close coordination with zoos and aquariums around the world. SANCOOB stands for Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.
The life-story of Mrs. Althea Louise Burman Westphal, co-founder of SANCCOB, makes a great read.

Celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day by Martin

Today, September 3rd, is International Vulture Awareness Day. What a great idea to celebrate these (partially) critically endangered birds with a day of their own!
Zoos, bird parks, rehabilitation centers, rescue stations and vulture lovers around the world are doing their part to raise awareness.
What can I do to mark this day?
I can show you how vultures are presented to the public in zoos.

I've never designed a vulture exhibit, so I decided to search my photo archives for examples of exhibits and I compiled my findings in this blog entry. The example exhibits shown below are from around the world emphasizing the "International" aspect of  the International Vulture Awareness Day.
Large aviaries are the most prevalent, sometimes with a walk-through path for the visitor. I also found an open top exhibit with barrier moats.

The first example is from a zoo in Southern Germany presenting a commission of Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus).

Visitor view from close up.
The visitor path winds up the hill giving you another view of the exhibit from a higher vantage point.
In this photo I found the birds hard to see and I therefore marked them with arrows below.

There are five birds in the photo. Clicking the photo will enlarge it.

The Griffon vulture aviary as seen from a distance.

click on sign to enlarge
The sign gives the visitors basic facts about the birds. It also informs them that the birds once roamed these lands.
European zoos have played and are playing a vital role in reintroducing several vulture species into southern Europe. But, I can't remember any zoo that I visited in Europe bragging with large signage about it, in fact, I feel they are a bit too shy about their good work.

The next photos are from one of the vulture exhibits at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido in California. Fittingly, the park exhibits the California Condor (gymnogyps californianus).

 I like the transparency of the net fencing - and: what a great vista!
This photo shows the exhibit from further back. The visitor deck is raised, allowing visitors to be closer to birds that are perched higher up.
A detail of  the California Condor exhibit at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Above a view into the exhibit as seen from the visitor deck. The birds have tree snags, water, and animal skeletons.
Sign at the visitor deck
The California Condor is one of the zoo's success stories when it comes to breeding and reintroducing animals into their native habitat; to quote from the San Diego Zoo's website:

The San Diego Zoo Global is a leading partner in the efforts to save the California condor. In 1982, 22 birds remained in the wild. At that time, the San Diego Zoo was given permission to begin the first zoological propagation program for California condors. The program also involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, the National Audubon Society, and the Los Angeles Zoo. Thanks to the conservation breeding program, within 25 years the population of California condors grew to more than 300 birds.

You can read the full article here: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/conservation/animals/birds/three_decades_of_the_condor/
And another interesting article from their web site:

Crossing the Pacific to Japan, I found photos I took of a vulture exhibit at the Tama Zoo near Tokyo. The exhibit is quite large and round in shape allowing for the birds to fly in a circular pattern.
A turkey vulture circling around the tree at the center of the exhibit at the Tama Zoo.
A photo from a different angle.
The tree snag in the center is packed with five different species of birds of prey, not just vultures:
Mixed birds of prey exhibit at the Tama Zoo, Japan.

Below is a photo of the most colorful vulture, a king vulture (Sarcorhamphus papa) on display at the National Aviary . The National Aviary, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, isn't funded or run by the U.S. government, like the National Zoo in Washington D.C.is. Given that they have quite an exotic bird collection the epithet "National" is something of a misnomer on that end too. The king vulture's name, however, is dead on:
At this exhibit the barrier of choice between visitor and vultures is glass, allowing for net-free photos.

There is some edifice behind the exhibit, which is thankfully hidden from view by the wood wall. The lush and tropical planting fits to the exotic character of the birds and to their preferred habitat of tropical lowland forests.

Besides taking net-free photos, glass allows you to get very close to the animal. The photo below is from a vulture exhibit at the Amersfoort Zoo in Holland.
Here the same photo un-cropped:
The transparency of this glass barrier works particularly well here because the visitor is in a dark, shaded place that doesn't create reflection onto the glass pane. In fact it worked so perfectly in places that I can imagine visitors occasionally running into the glass (and birds might too).
The theming and the placement of the glass further helped to disguise and conceal the barrier, as you can see in this photo:
Below, a different view of the same exhibit.
Carcasses are scattered on the floor:
A glass barrier needs to be clean and free of reflection for it to serve its purpose. Fortunately, both can be controlled. A designer will go to great lengths to prevent reflection in most circumstances. Clean glass might be largely a management issue, but the designer can help by making cleaning the glass easier and thereby likelier through easy accessibility. Despite the fact that there was quite a lot of glass in this exhibit, it was spanking clean the day I was there. The photo below shows how reflection creates distraction along the visitor sight-line.

Reflection on glass barrier
This is not to say that this was a design gaffe - on the contrary, the exhibit worked great from the visitors' point of view - but the photo allows me to show rather then to tell about one of the downsides of glass: reflection.
The other disadvantage of glass is a psychological aspect: although visually pleasing, glass creates quite a disconnect from the animal even if one stands nose to nose with the animal. I experienced this once with a tiger and once with a gorilla. In both cases I saw the animals through the glass as a visitor ;there were just inches between me and the animals, and then I stepped behind the scene with a keeper to see the back holding area where cages and chutes consisted of metal bars. When the animals came up, I took notice and stepped back.
It was scary and impressive; the animals appeared stronger, bigger, and wilder - gone was the cuddly kitty, instead I was faced with a wild tiger. This transformation happened in my head, the animals were the same, whether behind glass or behind bars, and quite uninterested in me. Anybody that has gone to a zoo with a public training wall at a tiger exhibit where you can come close to the animal knows what I am talking about.
The bottom line of this digression, as the photos from Amersfoort Zoo show, glass is a great barrier but it has its shortcomings.

Back to International Vulture Awareness Day and how these birds are displayed in zoos:

The Living Desert Museum in Southern California has a walk through aviary which allows you to see the birds with no barrier between you and them.
The sign reads "PLEASE STAY ON PATH"
There is a little stone bench in the lower right corner of the photo. How much closer can you get to these animals?
Above: A black turkey vulture (Coragyps atratus) looking down at me where I'm standing on the visitor path.

A completely different concept in displaying vultures is the open top exhibit in the next example. This exhibit is situated in the African Woods section of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The birds are confined by a ha-ha and some wire fencing, both mostly hidden from public view. The photos here are about ten years old; by now the exhibited species might have changed - if not the exhibit itself.
At the time of my visit they had Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) on display. The downside of this type of exhibit is that you need to clip the birds' feathers to keep them from taking off; and another potential disadvantage is that other birds can enter the enclosure, which might lead to fighting or to high blood pressure in the vet department.
In the photo above the Griffon vultures have company from one heron and two turkey vultures.
Since it is quite common to see several vulture species around one carcass I guess it just got more educational  - but how to do you explain Old World and New World vultures in one exhibit? Does the visitor even care? For the visitor the enclosure becomes more colorful and more active...
I remember the display as beautiful and effective from my visitor vantage point. What made it even more interesting was that I could see antelopes behind the exhibit; it was one spectacular habitat display. I wish I had a photo of  the vultures with the antelopes in the background; instead I found a photo I took in Kenya that reminded me of this exhibit:
A venue of vultures in front of a herd of wildebeests.
When it comes to zoo design: Let nature be the guide.

Summing up: I was impressed by the diversity of displays with which zoos raise appreciation for vultures. Creating aviaries large enough for these birds to fly takes up a lot of land and I was wondering, couldn't you make the most of the real estate by adding ground dwelling animals to the display?
I did a search for mixed vulture exhibits and found two amazing exhibits at ZooLex.org
The first one is located at Nordhorn Zoo in northern Germany where they mix Griffon vultures with an Ibex herd (Capra ibex).
Mixed species exhibit at Nordhorn Zoo. ©Wolfgang Salzert, 2005
Visitors can enter the exhibit and view the birds from behind a railing. Here is a link to more photos and a thorough description of the exhibit:

The Nature and Animal Park Goldau, in Switzerland, mixes bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) with snow hares (Lepus timidus). How cool can you get?
Snow hare ©Tierpark Goldau, 2005. Photo from ZooLex.org
Bearded vulture exhibit at Goldau ©Monika Fiby, 2005. Photo from ZooLex.org
More photos of this exhibit and a lot of useful information (cost and size of the exhibit, etc.) can be found at:  http://www.zoolex.org/zoolexcgi/view.py?id=788

Finally, two links I highly recommended for further reading.
Peter Dickenson writes about the dangers vultures are facing in the wild:
The founders of the International Vulture Awareness Day put a site up where you can find out what zoos and other organizations are doing to celebrate this day. Sign up and participate at:

For this blog entry I wanted to know what a group of vultures is called. Here is what I found:
"Wake, committee, or venue"  from wikipedia.org
"Wast, committee, meal, vortex, venue and even wake"   from wiki.answers.com
"Vultures circling in the air are a Kettle" from vulturesociety.homestead.com
Vulture illustration by Laura Hamilton

Penguin and carp - failed experiment by Martin

Last year the Nuremberg Zoo in Germany  introduced a few carp Cyprinidae to their Humboldt penguins Spheniscus humboldti.

A raft chasing a carp.

The hope was that if the fish were big enough the penguins would not see them as prey and leave them alone.

Even if there were a few and minor conflicts, resulting in slightly increased stress-levels with higher alertness, and more activity, it could be seen as beneficial.

Unfortunately the conflicts were major from day one and after a short time the experiment ended as failed.

The birds chased the fish and pecked at them whenever they caught up. There were not enough dark hiding places for the fish.
Besides, the idea was not for the fish to hide in some crevice, but to be in plain view of the visitor window and liven up the pool when the penguins were on land.

Mixed species exhibits can be beneficial for animals and fun for visitors. It could have been here too, even if penguin and carp are a questionable combination.

I'm sorry it didn't work out. But not experimenting would mean stagnation - and that would be the true tragedy, and much worse than a failed try!


While I was writing this page I wanted to know what a group of penguin is called. If it is above water it is called a waddle, if it is below water it is called a raft.

How come I didn't see that bit of fun information on any of the many penguin graphics I came by in the last couple years?

I know it is pointless and useless, but that is exactly the kind of pointless and useless information that will lead to social interaction: "Hey guys, guess what a group of penguins underwater is called?" 

It is also the kind of success and fun that will make it more likely for the visitors to come back to the graphic panel and fish for more candy. And then (and only then) is it the time to insinuate something heavier.

Besides - where else can you use the words raft and waddle but at a penguin exhibit with an underwater view? So go for it!

Interactive projection walls and floors - chances to play & learn in aquariums by Martin

Below are 9 examples of interactive projection walls, floors and touch tanks. I collected them from the internet, with the selection criteria that they have applicability for use in aquariums. Therefore, most of them have an aquatic theme, are animal related, or are educational.
If you don't have time to view all nine examples,  just go to no.s1, 6 and  7 for the top of the bunch.

1st example: Touch Tank
Depending on the species, touch tanks can be controversial. But here is a touch tank that is politically correct.

Okay, it is not the same as a real touch tank, but the water simulation in this clip looks quite realistic, and with the right display (software) it could encourage learning. People can point to plastic bags floating in the water and remove them from a turtle's swim path. The possibilities are endless and the touch tank's layout encourages social interaction. 

Click on the link below to see another video of the same "touch tank" at a different location.

There is a mirror installed above and behind the touch tank in that location.
If there are large crowds - as shown in the photo below -
you can easily look over the shoulder of people in front of you.
The photo below shows the mirror more clearly.
click on photo to enlarge

2nd example: Touch Wall
This video shows an interactive projection device installed in an office space. The device tracks visitors walking by and translates the motion into ripples and waves along the screen. 
This could be nice (and expensive) along a boring aquarium hallway; as long as this technology is novel visitors will have a blast with it.

The sound in the video is quite impressive. In animated movies the sound is key to bringing the movie to life. The same holds true for these interactives. If you go this route, great sound effects are a must and will add a lot more fun to them. 
As you can see from the clip below: similar concept, even better graphics... but no sound.

3rd example: Touch Wall without sound
This touch wall was designed by q-bus Mediatektur, the company that also conceived the touch tank in the first example


Here a link to another hallway example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3BJqSIK890
but without an aquatic theme. Playing time 6 seconds

4th example: Interactive floor
This example is from the Science of Survival exhibition at the Science Museum, London. The visitor can step in a pool with clown fish. The animation of the clown fish is good. Watch to the end to see a person stepping on the floor projection.

The text in the projection reads:
Of every 100 drops of water on earth:
97 are too salty too drink
2 are locked in ice
1 is fresh water 
I guess the point is, if someone is playing with the fish eventually that someone -or some bystanders- will read the text.

5th example: Interactive floor
Here is another floor projection where you step on the fish and the fish shoot off - not much to it, but I included it because of its aquatic theme.


I found another interactive floor but this time without a projection - it is an audio set up. It is located in a brightly lit mall space. The visitor moves on a patterned carpet and when the camera above registers that they are stepping on a certain area it activates a sound bite.  Check it out at the link below, it's worthwhile to see what other things are possible with floor animation.
I assume the circles are only for fun; as far as the technology is concerned no carpet or pattern is needed.
But this opens interesting possibilities for aquariums: What if there are dangerous fish lurking in your path? They could - half concealed  - either be woven in a custom carpet or simply painted on the floor,   and as the visitors step on them they activate a sound bite: a scream of pain, "you-are-dead" spoken text, etc.

6th example: Water Board
This three and a half minute clip is worth watching to the end. Or jump forward to the last quarter of the video to the see its educational potential and how visitors can interact with their all or parts of their bodies.

There is no jumping up and down or dancing going on - this is more brainy. But it looks like plenty of fun and many kids could interact with each other making a chain of body parts (like arms) where the water runs from one to the next. Or a parent is standing tall in the middle while the water splashes on the children to the right and left.

Mike Burton is the creator of the WaterBoard, which was a winner of the 2007 RSA Design Directions Award. As far as I know, it is only conceptual.
 ©2007 Mike Burton
The basic components are an opaque board measuring 2.2m x 8 m, four projectors and four cameras for back-projection and detection. The users can draw (or erase) lines to manipulate the water or use their limbs or whole bodies, to alter the water's flow.

I couldn't find much useful - let alone contact - information on Mike Burton; and the 2007/2008 web site of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA) didn't have further information.

7th example: Funky Forest
Click on the video link below to see some great interaction, graphic art, and lighting. 

Funky Forest - Interactive Ecosystem from Theo Watson .

Guests can manipulate the water on the floor and divert it towards the trees to make them grow. They can plant and grow trees by leaning against the walls. The overall design and lighting scenario is simply superb.
Children creating trees

The Funky Forest premiered first in Amsterdam a few years ago. In 2009 a permanent and updated version with seasons has been installed at the Moomah Children’s cafe in New York City, and also in 2010 in the Art Garden of the Singapore Art Museum. 
The design/artwork is outstanding. Here are more photos:

Emily Gobeille and Theodore Watson are the creators of the Funky Forest. They have collaborated on several projects, and many of them are worthwhile looking at from an aquarium-adaptation angle.
Don't miss
Knee Deep 
Vinyl Workout - this one only because it is another floor installation.

8th example: Interactive Aquarium - Call in with mobile
To quote Tom Vanderlin, the creator of the Interactive Aquarium:
"Using computer vision the seascape will react to the motion of a user, seaweed will sway and fish will scatter. Users can then dial in with any mobile device and create a fish using their voice. As they connect in realtime the sounds they make are analyzed and create a dynamically generated fish."
Carnival Interactive Aquarium from Todd vanderlin
The illustrations were again created by Emily Gobeille.

9th example: 3D mapping
If you don't want to watch the whole video (2.5 minutes) just watch the opening scene for the 3D effect and then jump to the1:00 minute mark to see some cool aquatic effects.


Here is a link to a news report about it:
and more information on what the future will bring here:

The 3D effect is somewhat lost on my 2D screen. From the reaction of the bystanders in the news features it must be highly convincing.

Summing it up
There is no doubt that interactivity will play a larger roll in aquariums - and in zoos - and in our life in general.  Touch screens, and motions sensors, and call-in-with-your-cell phone technologies are here to stay. The question is: what is the price tag - and how much value do you get for it in return in terms of increased revenue or attendance, conservation, entertainment, or education?

Technology in zoos and aquariums is frail and transient - I have seen several high-tech installations come and go during repeat visits to various institutions over the last fifteen years. As long as these devices are a novelty they will engage the visitors, and they have the potential to be fantastic education, entertainment, and conservation devices.

The novelty-factor made me wonder how easy it is to update the content, especially if your institution is frequented by many repeat visitors. How difficult is to keep the content fresh? On Theodore Watson's website I found the link to Openframe work.
The video is over six minutes - jump ahead to the 4:00 minute mark and watch it from there to get the basic idea.

made with openFrameworks from openFrameworks.

For information on the openframeworks visit their website: http://www.openframeworks.cc/
While you are there check out their gallery http://www.openframeworks.cc/gallery for other cool stuff - not necessarily aquarium related.
If your art or graphic department can manage your institution's website it might be able to handle this software and rejuvenate any content in-house, thus stretching the lifespan of these installations.
But of course you may also be able to outsource it. Click on this link to see an example:

Whenever aquariums stray away from their core business (animals/nature) they run the risk of competing with non-animal institutions (like science museums, natural history museums or commercial endeavors with deep pockets). As you can see for yourself on this  last link   http://www.projectionadvertising.co.uk/

Speaking of advertising, if this technology interested you I recommend my previous blog entry where I show an example of an interactive wall screen in an aquarium.

Kids burning off energy: Where to play in aquariums (Part 2) by Martin

In my last post I wrote about the necessity for aquariums to provide play areas with every exhibit, or at least within every exhibit gallery, so that kids can let out their extra energy.
I only showed what was simple, low tech and of moderate size.

In this entry I want to present an item that is great for play and being active, but is high tech: interactive wall (or floor) projection technology.
The example I chose is from the Aquamarine Fukushima Aquarium in Japan. The aquarium opened in 2000 and ten years later it added a new exhibition area. This addition is geared towards kids. (I already wrote about its spiny lobster exhibit and cushioned play area in previous entries.)

Next to the cushioned play area are interactive projection walls that allow children (ages 3 to 99) to manipulate a projected image on the wall through their own movement.
Below two girls are jumping in front of the wall to manipulate the projected images.

This is better explained by the video clip below. 13seconds

Or, here is an example from the Orlando Airport in Florida, that shows this technology in action with an aquatic touch 14-second clip

Back to the Aquamarine Fukushima aquarium:

I liked how active the kids were in front of the screens. 

I liked the set up that children can manipulate the projection of a jelly fish and then observe the real thing in the tank adjacent to the screen. You can see their dad, who seconds ago was waving his arms in front of the screen, now taking a closer look at the jelly tank in the background

I also like that these screens are easy to dismantle to make room for a fish tank. Which could happen in the near future, because...
Technology in zoos and aquariums is often faster outdated than one can install it. These interactive walls (also available as floor projections) are becoming increasingly common at airports and malls, and are often used in connection with advertisement.Nintendo's Wii, with its handheld pointing device that detects movement, is not far off from the motion screen technology and has already made it into kids' homes.
So how do you top that or make it more novel? Do you want to or need to? Wouldn't it be better - in the long run - to stick to your core business?

However skeptical I am about putting resources towards technology, I was impressed when I saw the children dancing in front of the two projections, burning off energy, and having fun! - It worked great.

On the video clip above the screen is round, in the foreground and part of the yellow wall.
There is a fish tank directly underneath it - bringing the fish back into the picture. (I was wondering, does this hand-waving and jumping up and down of the visitors provide any enrichment/entertainment for the fish?).

The photo below is giving you an overview of the layout of the space: the round screen on the right with the discus tank underneath, and a jelly tank on the left with two projection screens beyond.

Interactive motion screens at the Aquamarine Fukushima (click on photo to enlarge)
Next to these motion projection screens is a cushioned play area with several fish exhibits, which I presented in the previous entry. I venture to predict that the play area will still be fun five years from now, but the motion screens won't; they will have been replaced with the next cool thing.
But again, for now they are fun and good examples for letting out some energy indoors with the entire family.

In case you want to find out more about these interactive devices I've included a few links below.
1. A company that manufactures interactive motion screens

 2. A blog that discusses this - and similar - technology: "Interactive Multimedia Technology"

Children burning off pent up energy: Where to play in aquariums by Martin

I want to show you some play areas that I came along recently that allow children to let off some steam. The photos and video clips are from aquariums, malls and airports - what they have in common is that they are indoors and that they encourage kids to be active.
Children playing at a lantern fish sculpture at Ripley's Aquarium Myrtle Beach in South Carolina
Imagine you are a kid and you have been buckled up for an hour's drive to see fish but all you can do is look, when what you really want to do is jump, touch, participate...
Or maybe this energy is due to inclement weather which kept you indoors during the week's heat spell or rainy days. Finally your parents had enough and chaperoned you into an aquarium...
Or you have just toured some of the aquarium, watching fish of all sizes and shapes, listening to videos, and touching screens, and you feel an overload of excitement and are ready to let some of it out...
How do you let go of this energy in an aquarium?
The first example is from the Aquamarine Fukushima aquarium in Japan.
Click on the photos to enlarge.
A boy is jumping (he's a blur ) from a cushioned box onto the cushioned floor among some plush animals.

In the photo above the boy is jumping in the other direction. Again, he's a blur and partially hidden by the pink box. You can spot his dad to the far right in a trench coat sitting on one of the cushioned boxes.

And in the final shot the boy is posing for me kneeling on the raised bench. In the foreground is a fish bowl (click on photos to enlarge).

This cushioned play area measures about 20 square meters  (215 sq. feet). There are about five or six small fish tanks interspersed. Tanks differ in shape: rectangle, bowl, cylinder.

Here is a fast pan through the area giving you a quick overview

The pan is so fast that I clipped a couple photos from it below.

Notice the stuffed turtle and stuffed fish (or whale) the kids are bouncing and pouncing on?

And while the kids are active and burning off energy in the "rubber cell" their parents enjoy a tranquil moment to look closely at fish:

If kids are having a great time, the parents love it! They can rest on the cushioned boxes and connect with your treasures. This is the time to bring your message across! Now your husbandry, education or conservation people can "sponsor" this place with their message.

In this play area visitors can observe discus fish (among other species) and find out that discus parents raise their young carefully, and "feed them with a kind of milk secreted from their bodies".
Really? Just like a mammal? Makes you think, doesn't it? Something to talk about. Fitting for an area were visitors bring their carefully-raised young...

For me the bottom line of this area is: First fun, then fish, then the message. 

The next example is a small play area at the Tulsa Airport (Oklahoma, USA).
I've come by this play area several times over the last year and there were always kids playing. Unfortunately, the day I had time to take photos there were no kids around.
Two things I thought were interesting. First, there was not much to this area: just a rubber floor, a crawl-through box, a couple climb-on sculptures and a few games. But kids enjoyed it all the same.
The second interesting thing is that there is no play area at the Oklahoma Aquarium itself, for which this piece is making propaganda. Burning-off-energy areas for kids would be a great addition to this otherwise outstanding aquarium, but I believe they are working on this as I am writing.

This shot is from the other side. I think the entire area is less than 15 square meters (160 sq.ft), and would fit easily next to many indoor exhibits - in aquariums and zoos alike.

The next example is from a mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The area is neither pretty nor involved: cushioned wall, rubberized floor and a slide/climbing sculpture that seems very accident proof - a  synonymous expression for boring - and yet all kids I observed had great fun with it. 
The kids didn't come here to see anything interesting or to learn something new. All they wanted to do was run and jump. I observed the girls in the photo above running down the ramp (the kids didn't use it as a slide) and crashing into the cushioned railing and then letting themselves fall onto the floor - that went on and on. Later I saw two boys doing the same thing. I caught it on the video below:

This game seemed to be as much fun as it was pointless. I saw them doing it over and over.
It also brought back to mind something my sister-in-law said. My two nephews are bundles of energy
and she goes to places where they can let that energy out. She avoids places where they have to sit tight. She doesn't enjoy telling them off, and she is most happy when the kids are having fun.
This play area caters to the needs of the young just like a bench caters to the needs of the elderly or weary. While benches are common in most aquarium galleries, play areas are usually few and far and often just in one area, instead of being interspersed throughout the aquarium.

A good example for combining fish with the children's need to burn off energy is the crawl through tunnel in the Natural Encounters building at the Houston Zoo in Texas.

Here children can crawl through an acrylic tube in a piranha tank. Parents can observe them from the main viewing window - and the kids love that. While I was there most kids did several runs through the tunnel.
Check out the clip below. The girl in the pink dress goes in at the beginning of the video and is back by the end of it. 

Here I follow her from the exit to the entrance...

In the photo below there is a teenager behind a couple of kids.

Nobody spent much time observing the piranhas. At some point there was a group of mothers in front of the window - they neither read the signs nor paid any attention to the fish, but conversed happily with each other, occasionally waving at their kids. Neither did the kids spend much (if any) time looking at the fish. But they all enjoyed what they were doing!
Maybe they had so much fun they'll want to come back or at least they'll tell their friends about it and generate more revenue that way - which might eventually fund your renovation or conservation projects.
Here, too, the bottom line is: First fun, then fish and then the rest will fall into place.

With this blog entry I wanted to show you a variety of possible indoor play activities that could easily be part of or nearby an animal exhibit.
This is about burning off pent up energy. It is not about fish, not about conservation, not about education - but with a clever layout and the right timing you might slither your message in - and more effectively than in any other way because your visitors are having fun.

All play areas presented are simple - I left out anything complex, hugely expensive or technology driven - I'll do that in my next blog.

Most larger aquariums have an outdoor playground and some even an indoor play area - somewhere.
But better yet is to intertwine the need for action and participation with observing the fish: bringing fun and fish together.

And this is what is to come. Any doubts? Looking back in time might give you a good idea where the future is headed. Judging from the black and white photo below and the examples I have shown before, I find it certain that visitor participation and kid activities will play a larger part in public aquariums.

 (Photo copyright Karl Rauschkolb - click on image to enlarge)
This photo from the former Cleveland Aquarium shows that three of the six tanks are above the visitors' eye level. Aquariums have come a long way for kids.

If you offer benches then you cater to the need of the weary visitors.  If you offer play, climb, crawl and jump areas then you offer something for those with extra energy. Most likely children. Most likely the driving force behind the wish to visit your aquarium; and remember: parents do what children love!

Pop-up bubble in a lobster tank at the Aquamarine Fukishima in Japan. by Martin

How cool is a lobster? Very cool from close-up.
Look at the photo below. Click on it for a larger version. 

Here is another shot.

At the lobster tank at the aquarium, Aquamarine Fukushima in Japan, you can see these animals from very close, and from just a few inches away their colors and details are spectacular.
Here is a photo that I took from the inside of a pop-up bubble. You can see every little detail on the antennae.  
Again, click on the photo for a larger version.
And another shot.

The lobster tank can be viewed from all sides. Underneath the tank is a crawl through tunnel with a pop-up bubble (acrylic hemisphere).
The photo below shows an overview.

(1) visitors standing in front of the tank.
(2) exit, or entrance, of crawl-through tunnel
Notice the steps in front of the crawl-through tunnel. They lift the eye level of the adult visitors (1) high above the rock cave that surrounds the pop-up bubble, and that is where all the lobsters hang out. Adults, standing on the raised area, need to bend down down if they want to view the lobsters from close up.

The benefit of the raised platform is that kids can view the lobsters from close up without needing to be lifted up, as you can see in the next photo.

Natural rocks (versus artificial ones) are placed around the pop-up bubble, leaving a space of about 10 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) for the lobster to tuck themselves between the acrylic hemisphere and the rocks.
The rock arrangement opens up towards the main viewing (from where the boy looks and from where I took the photo). If you look from any other side of the tank, you'll see mainly rocks, but here and there lobsters are peeking or hanging out through the gaps - if they're not wandering around anyways.
Below is a photo showing the back of the side of the rock cave. From here you can't see the acrylic dome which is hidden under what appears to be a heap of rocks.

I was wondering how difficult it must be to clean the dome with all the rocks and animals around. However, as with almost all aquariums that I visited in Japan, and the Aquamarine Fukushima in particular, all acrylic screens were spanking clean.

The crawl through tunnel was too low for adults of my size. I couldn't bend or crawl on my knees, but had to slither my way in. The carpet made it somewhat soft and the walls and ceiling were cushioned.
So what if some adults can't or won't make it through the tunnel? All the more fun for the kids!

Below is a view into the tunnel. If you enlarge it you can pick out the round shape of the pop-up in the back. Then the tunnel takes a turn to the right for the exit.

A few more shots from inside the pop up:

There was quite some counter light for the camera. But don't let the photos fool you. The animals were in excellent view, and you could see their tops or underside with all their fascinating spots and markings from very close. Making it even more interesting was the fact that these animals were active, and constantly pushing and shoving around. A fun tank for the visitor.

On the photo below is a woman and a little boy in the acrylic hemisphere. How they both fit in there was a mystery to me. I had no room to spare.

I'm not sure what lobster species they had on display. Because of their long, spiny antennae and the lack of claws I assume that it was from the family of the spiny lobsters Palinuridae, also known as langouste.

They were mixed with Blackbar soldierfish Myripristis jacobus (another assumption). Soldierfish are active at night and like to hang out under dark shelves or in caves. So I am not sure that the exhibit was to their liking, but they seemed fine and they certainly made a pretty sight.

In the video below I'm standing at the back side of the tank and at the end of of this short video I hold the camera down into the crawl through tunnel. "Back side " might be a misleading term: in fact this side is the first view into the tank for the visitors that follow the general circulation flow. All they see is a large tank and a heap of rocks in the center, nicely concealing the acrylic hemisphere. Kids can dive down and disappear in the tunnel where they will be in for a fun surprise (or shock), when they get to the dome and find themselves surrounded by a nest of colorful lobster bodies with their long antennae and legs. And once parents make it along to the other side they have great view of the lobsters and their kids in the midst of them.

Bottom line 
Judging the tank from a visitor's perspective, it is a fantastic display. It offers many excellent viewing opportunities, and the clean and lean decor keeps the focus on the animals. A few more rocks creating more climbing opportunities and overhanging shelves for the animals might have been nice.
The clever layout allows surprise discoveries, and provides activities for the children and bonding opportunities between the generations when they wave at each other from pop-up to main viewing window and vice-versa , or when they both squeeze into the acrylic dome. All in all, I was impressed.

Manatee - Mixed species exhibit at The Dallas World Aquarium by Martin

During my visit to The Dallas World Aquarium in Texas I saw manatees mixed with large arapaimas in the Orinoco Rainforest tank. It was impressive to see these large but otherwise very different animals so close together.
 Click on the photo for larger version.

 Here is a video clip

The aquarium guide listed the manatee as "Antillean manatee" a term that was new to me since I had heard it only referred to as the West Indian Manatee Trichechus manatus.

They also had three catfish species in the tank
South American Red Tailed Catfish Phractocephalus hemioliopterus
Reticulated Shovelnose catfish  Pseudoplatystoma reticlatum
The aquarium guide listed the third as "Fork-snouted" catfish. I couldn't find any further information about it and made the assumption they are referring to the  Ripsaw catfish Oxydoras niger
as shown in the photo below.

Another species in the tank is the "Brown stingray" - at least that's what it said in the aquarium guide. But after looking closer at the photo in their guide book and then at the photo below I decided it is an Ocellate river stingray Potamotrygon motoro. Though I must add that this not my field of expertise.

The stingray is partially covered by the visitor's head
While I tried to find an answer to my stingray question I stumbled over an interesting aquarium website:   http://www.aquarticles.com/
with an introduction on how to keep freshwater stingrays

I also saw a few black-banded leporinus Leporinus fasciatus 
This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

And finally, the Arrau turtle Podocnemis expansa is sharing the pool with the manatees.

 From above the manatee pool looked like this:

In both photos above you can see a manatee to the left of the island.
The island is home to Saki monkeys and Emperor tamarins.

Many birds are "flying freely from the island in the River exhibit to the top of the seven-story structure" - to quote the guide.
I just want to list a few here:

Southern yellow grosbeak

Green oropendola

Crested orpendola

Andean cocks-of-the-rock Rupicola peruvianus

Pompadour cotinga

Capuchin bird

and various toucan species.

I also saw  several species of waterfowl  in the pool. The guide lists:
Ringed teal, Rosy-billed pochard  and White-faced whistling duck
Black-necked swan
Orinoco goose

Here a shot from the underwater window with two ducks bobbing in the water

The photo below shows a huge waterfall. I was once told by a marine mammal curator that his manatees were stressed when introduced to a new exhibit due to a life support return pipe that was placed one meter above the pool surface (3 feet) and emptied with a lot of noise.
At The Dallas World Aquarium the animals not only have the water of a return pipe gushing into the pool, as you can see in one of the above water photos, but also a tall waterfall. Neither of the two animals seems to be particularly stressed and they were calmly swimming circles through the pool. But again, I'm a designer and this is not my field of expertise.

notice the tall aerial roots hanging behind and alongside the waterfall
And lastly, another video from the underwater viewing area

For all photos and videos above copyright 2010 wild-design unless otherwise noted

Bigger is better: Penguin exhibit at the Sea Life Park Tokyo by Martin

Within the last year I have visited sixteen penguin exhibits - mainly because of a penguin project I have been working on. I made the following observation: the larger the water body the more birds I saw in the water. Water motion, like waterfalls, jets, waves etc. also seem to be a major factor.

Sure, sixteen random visits are not a study, and it might have been all coincidental. But during my recent visit to Japan I came across four penguin exhibits, quite by chance and at different times, and these four exhibits mirrored my observation perfectly.
Of these four exhibits, three were rather small and all penguins were just standing on land, except for one where a few birds of the flock enjoyed water jets in a shallow pool.

The fourth exhibit however had a huge pool - probably the largest penguin pool I have seen in my life - and a wave machine. There all birds were in the water. This exhibit is located at the Sea Life Park Aquarium, Tokyo, and I will show it here.

Below is video that I shot at the underwater window. Seeing all these animals moving in a flock was  impressive.

©2010 wild-design.com
Although the pool was huge the penguins loved swimming near the window and these curious animals seemed to be as interested in the visitor as they were in the birds.

On display were Humboldt penguins  mixed with Rockhoppers, and in an area seperated by a fence they had a flock of Fairy penguins.
I didn't noticed the Rockhoppers when I was visiting but when I looked closer at the photo below I noticed that this is not a Humboldt penguin.


While this exhibit impressed me for its size, I was underwhelmed by what it had to offer the visitors. There was only one underwater viewing window and none for the Fairy penguins. The window had a high ledge, too high for smaller kids unless they were lifted right on it. And the upper window edge was rather low. Look at the guy on the left of the photo below and see how his eye level, water level and the upper window edge are on the same height. The underwater viewing was only accessible by staircases.

What was good was the length of the slightly concave window: ideal to observe the animals on their underwater flight.

The above water viewing was so high above the water table that it made it less interesting to observe the animals. The boy in the photo leaning over the railing is at least 2.5 meters (8') above the birds. There was no visitor viewing near the nest boxes which were all tucked away at the end and to the back of the exhibit.
However, despite these short comings I enjoyed my stay at this exhibit and I liked it a lot for what it had to offer the birds. I was particularly impressed by the shear number of birds doing their synchronized swimming pattern: simply amazing! Here is a video clip that shows it from above:

The Fairy penguins are separated by a fence from the Humboldts and Rockhoppers.
In the background of the photo below you can see the next boxes. (You might need to click on it and look at the enlarged version)

On the video below you can see the wave action at the beach. The wave  is somewhat lost at the underwater viewing window, despite the fact that the top of the window is right at water level and I thought you could easily see the waves zooming by. But maybe the pool is too big, or the waves are too small?

Below I added notes to a satellite photo from Google Maps to give you an overview. From the photo I figured the pool measures about 35 meters (115') in length, and has a width of about 7 meters (23'). The land part of the exhibits is at least another 10 meters (33') passed the pool.

I couldn't tell whether this was a salt or fresh water exhibit.

I was there in April when it was still too cold for mosquitoes. However I heard that mosquitoes can become quite a nuisance even in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. I didn't see any traps or fans or other physical devices to deal with them. I assume that the birds are either treated with medicine or the avian malaria doesn't exist in Japan.

Bumblefoot or Pododermatitis
I once read that all diseases can ultimately traced back to the lack of oxygen in the tissue or organ. The source of this information might be somewhat flaky - a note pinned up in a yoga studio or a caption in some health magazine, I don't remember. But if this statement is true, than nothing would be better to prevent the bumble foot disease - a problem not uncommon with penguins in captivity - than exercise that gets the blood circulating and with it the oxygen. But if the penguins are spending hours on end standing on land because the water is not enticing enough for them to take a swim, the disease might be predetermined.

How does this effect the design of a penguin pool? For me it means: make the water as interesting as possible with jets, waves, obstacles, arches, varying water depth, large size pool for speeding longer stretches and easy turning radius, and having the right temperature, or maybe give them something interesting to look at underwater like a peek in the food prep room or a predator tank, or simply windows where they can observe the visitors.

Another benefit: Active animals are more fun to watch.

For all photos and videos above: @2010 wild-design.com

Doctor fish tank - Big hit with visitors by Martin

I remember that a few years ago a small fish called Doctor fish (Garra rufa) hit the news and many blogs. The fish eat dead skin cells of spa visitors leaving the healthy skin to grow. An article from China Radio International has more on this.
Photo: photo.eastday.com

Now the fish has made it into public aquariums, or at least one aquarium, where visitors can submerge their hands into the water and see and feel (!) the fish nibbling on their hands.

Here is a short video clip:

Touch tanks are usually popular with kids, but adults are often reluctant to the get their hands messy, or even think it unhygienic and unhealthy. But apparently not so with this Doctor fish tank. Maybe because of its name or its uses in spas and for skin treatments, but I saw just as many adults - if not more - as kids trying to get their skin "cleaned".

Below: Happy adults getting their hands wet and cleaned

Here at the Shinagawa aquarium, Tokyo, they had two smaller cylinders tanks. A step in the front of the display allowed children to reach in.
I was very excited about this exhibit and couldn't wait to tell clients and the world at large about it. Since some, if not most touch tanks, are controversial, I thought this would be the perfect win-win situation: Visitors of all ages love to interact with these fish and the fish, I assume, love to eat.
But then I came across the following Wikipedia article:
Garra rufa can be kept in an aquarium at home; while not strictly a "beginner's fish", it is quite hardy. For treatment of skin diseases, aquarium specimens are not well suited as the skin-feeding behavior fully manifests only under conditions where the food supply is somewhat scarce and unpredictable.
End of quote

Does that mean the fish only nibbles on skin when it is starving? And, is it true? If so, it wouldn't be ethical to display them unless they are also fed otherwise.

No instructions - say it with a photo

I don't like reading instructions - anywhere, anytime. Saying it with a photo is so much faster and easier to absorb. I have now seen it used a couple times in science museums, which have some of the worst offenders when it comes to having to read long winding instructions before you know what you need to do.
The doctor fish exhibit had a big sign with many words of which I understood none because they were in Japanese. But looking at the photo I knew immediately what to do, even if I'd been the only visitor.