America’s First Zoo Continues Paving the Way for Innovative Animal Programs

orangutan
Credit: Philadelphia Zoo
An orangutan hangs out on the Great Ape Trail.

“We connected the five exhibits out there with trail ways, and zookeepers can control the doors to allow cats to move to different exhibits [at times when they won't encounter a different species]. So the leopards can go into the jaguar exhibits, and the tigers into the lions. It expands what the animals can experience tremendously,” Murphy says. The zoo is working on taking this concept and transforming the entire zoo with a massive trail system that will expand to all animal exhibits, allowing them to cross the zoo campus. The trails will link existing animal habitats so animals with similar habitat requirements can use each other’s spaces in a time-sharing system.

“Animals in the wild don’t stay in one perfect area. They move along different paths and typically establish linear trails,” Murphy says.

The ability to travel these zoo trails will make the animals feel more at home. The Treetop Trail, an elevated trail for small primates, and the Great Ape Trail for orangutans are already open. Plans are underway to expand the system to include a ground-based trail with elevated components for big cats and a fully ground-based trail for hoofstock like giraffes and zebras.

Different doors operated by zookeepers will control which animals can travel through the intricate system at any one time. At no point will different species cross paths. It’s an innovative design, and other zoos are definitely watching to see how it works out for the Philadelphia Zoo. This creative effort to improve animals’ lives will be another first for America’s first zoo.

“The Philadelphia Zoo is definitely breaking the mold,” Murphy says. “The trail system is complex, dynamic and very exciting!”

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