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August 20, 2014, 10:34 am

Philadelphia Zoo unveils Great Ape Trail

The Philadelphia Zoo experience continues to be transformed for both animals and guests with Thursday’s opening of the Great Ape Trail, the second piece of the Zoo’s new campus-wide travel and exploration trail network. It’s the first such exploration trail network in the world.

In June 2011, the Zoo unveiled Treetop Trail, the pilot exhibit of the animal travel network. Treetop Trail is a 700-foot, flexible, elevated passageway of flexible mesh, which spans the visitor path and stretches through the trees at the Zoo’s Impala Plaza. It includes two “lookouts” for the monkeys, suspended in the largest trees. With the Treetop Trail, monkeys and lemurs have the opportunity to travel long distances and experience and respond to weather, local wildlife and the activities of other Zoo animals and Zoo staff and guests. Species currently using Treetop Trail includes blue-eyed black lemurs, white-faced sakis, a red-capped mangabey and black-and-white colobus monkeys.

The development of the animal trail network continues with the opening of the Great Ape Trail, which spans 200 feet and will initially be open to orangutans. The Great Ape Trail crosses over the visitor path at the PECO Primate Reserve and loops through a grove of trees next to the Zoo’s Bird Lake, giving the orangutans vistas over a large neighborhood.

Over the course of the next several years, expansion of this system will continue, with an expansion of Treetop Trail for monkeys and lemurs to open in 2013, and the intent of connecting the orangutan portion of the Great Ape Trail to the gorilla habitat in 2014. Additional trails will be implemented in 2014 and beyond for big cats and later bears. Once complete, the entire travel network will be made up of three different trails: the elevated system to be used by smaller arboreal species such as monkeys and lemurs (Treetop Trail and expansion); a more robust trail, with both elevated and ground-based components, that will be used by larger animals including big cats, great apes and bears (currently open to orangutans and then to gibbons); and a third, fully ground-based trail to be used by hoofstock including rhinos, hippos, giraffe and zebras. The trails will link existing animal habitats so animals with similar habitat requirements will be able to utilize each other’s spaces in a time-sharing system.

Other zoos have developed bridges and pathways on localized footprints. The Philadelphia Zoo is the first in the country to implement an animal travel system that is campus-wide and designed for such a wide variety of species.

“Today marks a milestone for our organization as we unveil the second phase of our master animal travel and exploration plan,” said Philadelphia Zoo President and CEO Vikram H. Dewan. “We are reimagining today’s Philadelphia Zoo and creating a more interactive experience for both the animals and our guests.”

“The Zoo is evolving beyond the traditional experience of viewing animals in one-dimensional exhibits,” said Dr. Andy Baker, chief operating officer, Philadelphia Zoo. “We are committed to providing engaging experiences to the animals in our care. This new trail system will continue to enhance the quality of life for our animals, giving them the chance to travel longer distances and explore a greater variety of environments, and giving them the ability to choose more of their own experiences.” Zoo staff will use a variety of approaches to study the impact the trail system has on the animals’ behavior and psychological well-being.

In addition to improving the way animals experience the Zoo, the new trail system will allow visitors at the Zoo to experience the Zoo in surprising ways as animals move along, above and across visitor pathways. “Visitors will get a different sense of how animals engage and make choices in their environment,” says Baker.