By MICHAEL BERMAN
A traditional visit to the zoo may have brought you to the feline section, where you’d say hello to the big cats. You could watch in awe at the huge lions or the orange-striped tigers, and eventually move on to a different section of the zoo. With the Philadelphia Zoo’s newest feature, the lions and tigers could be watching you. The Philadelphia Zoo recently unveiled “Big Cat Crossing,” an extension to their “Zoo360” trail system. Two young tigers, Dmitri and Wiz, made their entrance across the pathway above the center of the zoo’s campus at the media preview May 7.
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Tigers, along with lions, jaguars, pumas and more felines, can be found roaming above and across the zoo, traveling through 360-degree pathways. The zoo aims for a new experience — as visitors move around the zoo, the zoo moves around them.
The Philly Zoo has a more advanced visitor experience than other zoos; it’s the only zoo with a 360-degree exploration system.
“This is an important project with an innovative vision,” said Philadelphia Zoo President and CEO Vikram Dewan at the media preview for the new system. “No other zoo has tried anything like this at this level.”
While “Big Cat Crossing” adds to the visitor experience, it also benefits the animals, giving them plenty of space to roam. Rather than being confined to one section, they can travel through the pathway to different sections of the zoo’s campus.
The 330-foot-long mesh pathway was a $2.3 million project, but there will be more expansion for the cats and other animals as well.
“We will continue to advance this mission,” said Dewan.
Beginning in 2011, there was an exploration system made for smaller species, and the 2012 opening of the Great Ape Trail, where orangutans can be found exploring their pathways.
An extension for the apes is being planned in 2015 to include gorillas, and a 2016 trail for other large animals such as zebras, rhino, giraffe and hippos.
“(We are) reinventing the zoo experience for animals and visitors,” said Dewan.
A separate section of the zoo, The KidZooU: Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo & Faris Family Education Center, is geared specifically towards children’s learning and has goats, chickens, sheep, ducks and more.
Calling this the “Year of the Big Cat,” the zoo is attempting to bring awareness the endangerment of big cats. There is a shortage of palm oil, which is a vegetable oil found in many packaged foods, cosmetics and cleaning products. According to the Philadelphia Zoo’s website, “close to 80 percent of deforestation in the Sumatra peatlands was driven by the expansion of non-sustainable palm oil plantations,” which destroyed habitat for many animals, including Sumatran tigers.
The zoo is asking that consumers use products with 100 percent deforestation-free palm oil, instead of ones from non-sustainable sources.
The recent additions along with upcoming plans continue to make the Philadelphia Zoo an educational and fun place for visitors of all ages. There is always something new to see at America’s first zoo.
“Families come to the zoo to create memories that last a lifetime,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who was in attendance at the media preview.
IF YOU GO: The Philadelphia Zoo is open every day 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For admission fee information call go to http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/