Nuremberg Zoo

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

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.

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!