Wild Engineering: Creating Habitats

Posted Monday, October 3, 2016 at 4:08 PM

"Engineers often team up with other professionals to create habitats for wildlife."

Wild Engineering: Creating Habitats

PostedThursday, October 6, 2016 at 10:39 AM

Kate Gramling
Kate Gramling
Wild Engineering: Creating Habitats

In 2009, archeologists working in Egypt found the remains of what could be the world’s oldest zoo. Evidence shows that elephants, hippopotamuses, baboons, wild cats, a hartebeest, and an auroch (a huge, now extinct species of wild cow) were all kept in captivity at a royal menagerie on the upper Nile. Evidence also shows that several animals suffered from severe malnutrition or injury from restraints.

Unlike the rows of cages in historical zoo collections, most of today’s zoos are designed to show animals living in habitats carefully designed to match their natural environment. These habitats also provide animals with activities to reduce boredom and stress. Meeting all of the animals’ needs (and the concerns of the keepers) while delivering a fun and memorable experience for visitors is a huge challenge.

Consider the following elements that could be part of a polar bear exhibit:

  • Salt-water pools with varying depths for wading, swimming, and diving;
  • Transparent panels that allows visitors to view swimming bears, tough enough to withstand a bear pushing off or leaning on;
  • Open area for bears to rest out of the water, ideally with areas of loose soil in which the bears can dig or nap;
  • Small hills and boulders that bears can climb for fun and exercise;
  • Private den area;
  • Dividers to allow keepers to separate animals (to keep an adult male away from a mother and her cubs, for example); and
  • Easy access for zookeepers to feed or interact with the bears.

Water in pools would need to be filtered and cleaned, the exhibit may need to be heated or cooled at different times of the year, and animal care standards would need to be met. Keep in mind all of these requirements are subject to the constraints of the zoo’s climate, space, and budget.

This is a classic example of “design under constraint.” There are several possible features, lots of requirements, and many limitations. Engineers work with architects, exhibit designers, zookeepers, and other professionals to develop solutions that deliver the most features while meeting requirements and staying within the project’s scope.

Polar bears in the wild are facing pressure from shrinking habitat due to climate change. Zoos are now playing a more important role in their protection through education, breeding programs, and by providing homes to animals that would not survive in the wild. There are many other animals for which zoos can do the same.

What will zoos of the future look like? How will engineers help make that vision a reality?

Filed Under Construction Environment Architectural Special fields and Interdisciplinary Environmental Sports & Entertainment