In conjunction with Acor Kersulting, Urban Initiatives was engaged by long-term client Taronga Western Plains Zoo to provide concept design, documentation and contract administration services for upgrades to the African Wild Dogs exhibit at the entry to the zoo’s visitor experience. The existing exhibit was suffering from ageing visitor and keeper presentation infrastructure, an unnatural and worn animal environment and poor moat water quality – an issue exacerbated by the ongoing drought.
The challenge presented to the Urban Initiatives team was to create a new ‘iconic’ entry experience, ‘Gateway to Africa’, that would introduce visitors to the central themes of the zoo’s focus on the comparisons between the wildlife of the African and Australian Savannah landscapes. At the same time, the team would upgrade the containment and staff presentation facilities.
Urban Initiatives’ design response balanced functional, ecological, aesthetic and animal welfare considerations. A new Corten steel sheet piling system was used for its robust nature, construction efficiency and to provide an attractive common material language for the new animal containment moat wall, the main visitor viewing and keeper feeding deck, and the new visitor stand-off fencing. Urban Initiatives conceived a dramatic Corten steel ‘curtain’ through which visitors move into an intimate, close-up encounter with a large group of some of the African Savannah’s most enigmatic and brutal carnivores, the African Wild Dog.
A naturalistic ‘riffle’ stream connects the two sides of the moat prior to recirculation back up to a new wetland, aerating water and reducing nutrient loads, and simultaneously creating a more naturalistic, immersive exhibit experience. Earth mounding was added for topographical interest, allowing the animals to gain ‘prospect’ and display their natural behaviours as well as creating locations for naturalistic ‘den’ shelters.
This immersive landscape was enhanced by feature planting. Mature transplanted Brachychitons and palm trees announce the visitor entry to the exhibit and provide visual separation from the nearby circuit road. This highly crafted project balanced consideration of environmental systems, water health, materials, animal welfare, visitor and keeper requirements. The resulting ‘Gateway to Africa’ exhibit moves beyond the purely aesthetic or functional, convincingly integrating the two.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo. New South Wales
Taronga Conservation Society Australia (TCSA)