Philadelphia Zoo Lets Animals Roam Free (Well, Sort Of)

An aerial trail at the Philadelphia Zoo lets smaller monkeys and lemurs run above visitors’ heads.

Your next trip to the zoo could be a much more interactive experience.

Following a nationwide trend, the Philadelphia Zoo is unveiling the next phase of its new parkwide trail system today, which will allow such animals as orangutans, lions and bears (oh, my!) to leave their habitats and roam throughout the zoo along enclosed tracks.

"The driving force behind this is to reinvent the experience animals have, to provide them the opportunity to travel and explore," chief operating officer Andrew Baker told USA Today.

When the 10-year construction project is complete, 1.5 miles of elevated or ground-level trail will cross the 42-acre zoo, providing animals with an unprecedented amount of space to explore.

Physical Fitness for Zoo Residents

Zookeepers are also hoping that by allowing animals to have a more natural living experience, they will reap other benefits as well.

When the zoo opened phase one of the project last year — a 700-foot tube made of flexible stainless steel mesh for smaller monkeys and lemurs to run above visitors’ heads throughout the park — workers say that it gave the animals greater opportunity for exercise, resulting in weight loss and a reduction in diabetes, a condition commonly found in zoo-bound Mangabey monkeys.

The new ground trails debuting this week will accommodate larger animals, including giraffes, hippos and big cats — and will require a more involved scheduling system, since all the species can’t share the network of trails at the same time.

Unprecedented Access for Zoo Visitors

The multimillion-dollar system also benefits humans. "For visitors to be able to see animals do things naturally that they wouldn't normally do (in an exhibit) is very exciting," said animal keeper Christina Oliphant.

While other zoos across the country have implemented designs that allow for some movement between exhibits, Philadelphia's will be the first zoowide system.

“Our travel and rotation system reinvents the way animals experience the zoo,” Baker said. “We’re building on the experience of others, and we hope others will build on ours.”

To see the animals in action, check out this video.

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