Sponsored by the Woodland Park Zoo
If you visit Woodland Park Zoo beginning in May, you'll notice three new residents of the feline variety. Olan, Liem and Eko are 17-month-old Malayan tigers (and littermates) who reside in the newly transformed tiger area of the Banyan Wilds exhibit complex, the centerpiece of the zoo's Tropical Asia Zone. This marks the final phase of the zoo's extensive, $15 million project that also revitalized its outdated sloth bear section. (Phase one opened in May 2013 and included an area for small-clawed otters and a tropical aviary section as well as a play space for kids.)
In the zoo's Tropical Asia bioclimatic zone, zoo-goers will find a number of creatures such as orangutans and Malayan tapirs. The tigers' sizeable new living quarters within Banyan Wilds are surrounded by a dense nature trail meant to mimic the forests of that region. It was built with Woodland Park Zoo's concept of landscape immersion in mind, which coincides with the zoo's long-range plan to build exhibits that resemble the original environments from which these animals hail.
For Olan, Liem and Eko, that environment is Taman Negara (which translates to national park) in Malaysia.
"The exhibit allows tigers to be tigers, and allows people to see tigers as tigers," says Monica Lake, Woodland Park's capital projects manager. "If visitors don't see the animals as a part of the living landscape, then we're missing the point."
The refreshed tiger exhibit contains different types of jostle trees--trees that are on rocker arms so tigers can jostle them to shake snacks like hard-boiled eggs and frozen mice loose--which are fabricated to mimic dead tree snags of the wild. Carniviorous plants play a part in the entire ecosystem and heated rock slabs create hot spots for tigers to rest. A pool serves as a place for the big cats to plunge (often with a big splash).
"An immersive landscape experience is important for tiger survival and human survival," Lake says. "Humans are a part of and impact all landscapes and ecosystems on Earth. While we may not perceive the threat to human survival as acutely as we do for endangered species, without healthy and sustainable ecosystems, human survival and quality of all life is in peril." She quotes a saying, "Without the forest there is no tiger, and without the tiger there is no forest."
To maximize space, zoo staff opted for a net barrier that encompasses the exhibit. This is different than a moat-viewing station or glass barrier in that it allows visitors to view the animals from a six- to seven-foot distance. Being able to see and smell the tigers creates for a personal viewing experience.
The exhibit's overarching goal is to bring a message of awareness to the public about tiger conservation. Woodland Park Zoo partnered with global wildcat conservation organization Panthera to address the plight of endangered tigers in Peninsular Malaysia by establishing a series of critical field projects that focus on the Greater Taman Negara region of central Malaysia. The organization provides an annual contribution of $100,000 for ten years toward in-country tiger conservation. And thanks to field work done in collaboration with Panthera, the zoo was able to glean important data and information about Malaysia's endangered wild tigers to help inform some of the exhibit's interpretive elements, such as digital tablets that allow visitors to express their gratitude to people working to save tigers and share their message through social media, or learn more about what they can do to help.
The new feline additions intrigue onlookers. These Malayan tigers--which are much smaller than Bengal tigers--have rich rust coloring and intricate markings. They exude a surprising sense of calm, and are very comfortable in their new environment, and with humans.
"What I love about the tigers the most is their attitude toward each other and people is very laid back," says Pat Owen, a collection manager at Woodland Park Zoo. "They're very confident animals that go through life with a kind of flair that I envy."
To see the tigers, visit Woodland Park Zoo starting May 2, or head here for additional information on the Banyan Wilds exhibit.