Asian Highlands, Part Two
Soon visitors to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium will be able to ascend from the grasslands of northern India to the upper reaches of the Himalayas, pass through ancient ruins and misted forests and get up close and personal with some of the world’s most majestic and elusive animals.
The second phase of the eight-acre, $22 million Asian Highlands exhibit will open in May 2019 and is sure to be a blockbuster. “I think our visitors will be excited by what an immersive experience it’s going to be,” says Todd Scholz, director of capital projects at the zoo. “When we built the African Grasslands, we really took things to a new level, and this project takes them even further.”
Scholz says that creating that immersive experience was central to the planning and design of the exhibit. “Whenever possible, we really try to hide the barriers between the animals and visitors. The transition from fencing to rockwork is nearly seamless, so from a visitor’s perspective, it doesn’t appear that the animal is contained.”
Rest assured, though, they are. Scholz says that each animal’s individual abilities and characteristics inform how their environments have been planned. “You just have to look up at the sheer face of the rockwork (visible at the end of the exhibit) to get some perspective of how agile these animals are and how steep they can climb.”
Another leap forward was ensuring that the exhibit was as conducive to animal care and training as possible. To wit, the keepers were involved in the design process from start to finish, Scholz says. “The way the cages operate, the needs of each individual animal, the night houses and how they’re going to be used – we really focused on the user experience for the people who care for and manage the animals.”
As in the African Grasslands exhibit, the look of the Asian Highlands only adds to the feeling of being there. In addition to the ancient temple ruins and changing landscape, colorful prayer flags will festoon the paths, there will be sculptures of the smaller animals of the area in the misted forest, and a “yeti camp” will feature regional cuisine. “The myth of the yeti is going to be huge in this area,” says Scholz.
The arrival of the abominable snowman doesn’t seem to loom too large in the minds of the animals, however. Phase one inhabitants including the Indian rhino, Père David’s deer and the red pandas have acclimated just fine to the construction all around them, whilst the goral, takin, sloth bears, amur tigers and snow leopards are already here in Nebraska (some at the zoo, others off-exhibit at the Wildlife Safari Park) and patiently waiting for their big move to their new home.
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