Abilene Zoo: On the Cusp of a Growth Spurt

Abilene Zoo: On the Cusp of a Growth Spurt

Abilene Zoo in Texas is the only zoo in its region. It experiences incredible market penetration, but is still a small, municipal parks department zoo—20 acres and 250k visitors. With potential land to grow and new adjacent attractions opening soon, the zoo is poised to grow into a large facility.

Frank Buck Zoo: Building Repeatability

Frank Buck Zoo: Building Repeatability

Frank Buck Zoo is a small zoo in a small town. Although today the zoo is experiencing a massive market penetration, the zoo’s lack of identity and differentiation means future success is dependent on creating strong repeatable experiences for it’s local / regional resident visitors.

Caldwell Zoo: A Timeless Ballad

Caldwell Zoo: A Timeless Ballad

The Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas is a large ‘small’ zoo located in a small town. Drawing 250,000 in annual attendance from a drive time of about 1.5 hours, the family zoo is a great example of the best of small zoos—lovingly and thoughtfully designed using a blend of modern, innovative zoo design techniques with clean, timeless designs and light touches of theming set in a lush landscape with water features. A timeless, beautiful zoo borne from love—and a desire to be a community asset.

Austin Zoo: Keeping it Weird-ly Underperforming

Austin Zoo: Keeping it Weird-ly Underperforming

The 20-acre private zoo tucked into the hillside on the outskirts of growing Austin, Texas metro has plenty of challenges to tackle, but the beauty of the site and its proximity to Austin (and being the only zoo within an easy drive of the city) means the Zoo has almost unlimited untapped potential to become very successful—and a “weird” little gemstone to the community.

Dallas Zoo Changes Plans for Elephant

Last month, I reported on Dallas Zoo's decision to send their last remaining elephant, Jenny, to a wildlife park in Mexico.  It was announced this week that the Dallas city council has stepped in, reacting to the pressures of animal activists, and has requested the Zoo to find an alternate home for Jenny.  No plans have been reported, but it is safe to assume that the Zoo will consider the Tennessee Sanctuary suggested by the activists.  The Elephant Sanctuary boasts 2700+ acres at its disposal, providing 300+ acres for African elephants, and 2400+ acres for Asians.  Additionally, the Sanctuary has one 9000 sf African elephant barn, one 17,000 sf Asian elephant barn, plus separate quarantine facilities. 

To Safari or Night Safari...

In the past few years, a trend of opening zoos later or keeping them open longer has been spreading across the globe, especially during summertime.  Recently, I saw that San Diego Wild Animal Park is offering night safaris until 9pm, which got me to wondering why all zoos dont capitalize on this.  For one thing, allowing visitors to come at night opens your market up to young professionals who are busy working during weekdays, and uninterested in fighting the family crowd (and heat) during the weekends.  The teenage market would also, more than likely, love extended hours as teenagers are constantly looking for places to hang out, and the zoo would be a "safe" and acceptable place from their parents point of view.

Increasing your market equals increased spending and increased chance to meet educational goals.

Secondly, nighttime visitation allows people to avoid the peak heat of summer days, and will theoretically increase their stay time.  Additionally, many animals displayed in zoos are crepuscular (active during dawn and dusk) or nocturnal, and therefore, will be the most active during evening hours.  Animal activity always equates increased stay times.

An increased stay time equals increased spending and increased chance to meet educational goals.

Opponents site the extended hours actually hurt the zoo due to increased cost of staffing for extra hours.  However, some zoos in especially hot climates have actually changed their summer hours to shift toward the evening.  For example, the Al Ain Zoo in Abu Dhabi, UAE changes their summer hours to open in the afternoon and stay open past midnight, when in winter, have more traditional morning through afternoon hours.

Another zoo in Singapore, the Singapore Night Safari Park, was actually developed to only be open in the evenings.  Their novel approach has brought loads of attention from the industry and visitors worldwide, and from what I can tell, are tremendously successful.  [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Fd44p0Y_Ag&hl=en]

What's your experience with nighttime summer hours?

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Messages and Meanings...Part 1

Excerpted from my thesis entitled "Historic Zoo Architecture: Creating New Meaning"

Miscommunication, whether between two people or between a facility and its masses of visitors, is a very important issue in zoo design today.  Zoo professionals strive to educate the public on the ideals of conservation.  Using exhibit design and intricate interpretives and signage, zoos attempt to educate while entertaining.  In many cases, zoo professionals and designers overlook the contextual clues we unknowingly pass onto visitors.  Sometimes our biases blind us to details that may affect how visitors receive the conservation message we are trying to pass on. 

To further complicate things, zoos today are oftentimes utilizing exhibits that are old and outdated.  With over 100 zoos in the United States having opened over 50 years ago, a good number of exhibits in use today are outdated (Kisling, Jr., 2001).   These exhibits can carry more obvious contradictory clues to the conservation message, and create a situation in which visitors walk away not understanding the message and even worse, having negative feelings toward the animal or zoo.   Exhibits that are dominated by human forces, such as art and architecture, may oppose conservation and preservation ideals creating an ambiguous meaning for visitors.   Art and architecture are human centered activities that can create the subliminal message "We are more important than wildlife and nature".

Historic Elephant House, in use as of 2003

In this day and age, a great many zoos are considered historic, sustaining historic structures, and limited in space by urban situations.  Zoo designers are facing the challenge of not only increasing the quality and level of communication of zoo messages but also reusing these historic structures in a way that allows clear positive meaning for visitors.  The question now is:  Can this be done?