Tigers love to be up high, sunning themselves or staking out their prey from a good vantage spot.
So, from next year the big cats at Auckland Zoo will be able to do just that thanks to a $58 million redevelopment project which will transform part of the grounds into a South East Asian Jungle Track.
The redevelopment will encompass new enclosures for key species, including the orangutans, siamang apes, Sumatran tigers and a new species of crocodile.
For the tigers that means new bridges so they can look down on visitors. For the orangutans that means swinging through the trees and moving through parts of the zoo on climbing structures that are up to 23 metres high.
The high canopy habitat is a long overdue redevelopment for the orangutans. Photo / Supplied
Auckland Zoo Director Kevin Buley told the Herald the project is "without a doubt the most exciting time to be at Auckland Zoo".
"It has changed beyond recognition," he said.
"You won't be walking around the zoo looking at traditional zoo exhibits as it were, visitors should expect a zoo experience very unlike any other in the world."
Monica Lake, head of facility services, said the old pit-like structures of the tiger enclosures had been abandoned.
"Auckland Zoo has embraced landscape immersive design so our renewed tiger area is one in which the visitors are immersed in the landscape and environment of the tiger.
"They will now walk into a shared shelter where they will be able to look up at or into the eyes of a tiger.
"The rocks and landscape features, the plantings and the pools also enable the tiger to view the visitor as easily as the visitors view them," she said.
A specially designed overbridge will allow the tigers to go from one habitat to another, and provide an opportunity for visitors to stand beneath the tigers.
Auckland Zoo South East Asia exhibition will open in 2020. Photo / Supplied
"It's pretty impressive to be looking up at a tiger who is walking over you and looking down on you as something of interest," Lake said.
"The tigers will also be able to leap form rocks, dip their paws into pools or swim across the pool if they choose."
The swamp forest will be the shared shelter of crocodiles, turtles and fish, and it will provide a tropical exhibit with underwater viewing.
Buley said the new facilities will give the animals a more natural experience that allows them to behave naturally.
"You will see orangutans in the trees and on climbing structures that are up to 23 metres high. They will be moving not just through the orangutan habitat, but into the wider zoo through a network of climbing structures," he said.
The central lake boardwalk is one area to open in 2020. Photo / Supplied
"That is something you are not likely to see elsewhere in zoos around the world. It enables people to really go on a journey and connect with wildlife in a way they wouldn't otherwise be able to do."
Buley said the concept of the new design was to provide people with a closer connection to the animals and a better understanding of their need for protection.
"Only through this connection do people understand and empathise with the need to protect the environment and be part of the solution rather than the problem," he said.
"Southeast Asia is an area under serious threat environmentally from deforestation, and the species that we house here are all threatened with extinction in the wild.
"It's about creating those connections with wildlife and our visitors and raising awareness of the plight these species face in the wild, and potentially then how people can help to mitigate the issues these animals are faced with in the wild."
Monica Lake, Head of Facility Services at Auckland Zoo, talks by the new high canopy habitat. Photo / Peter Meecham
Southeast Asia Jungle Track opening dates:
- Phase 1 - The new cafe and function centre will open around Christmas 2019.
- Phase 2 - The high canopy area, including orangutans and siamang apes, will open in January-February 2020.
- Phase 3 - The full project is expected to be completed by spring 2020.