The exhibits span over 80 acres of the facility comprising species from all around the world from hoofed mammals to birds. It is also home to many endangered and rare species, including the okapi, Amur leopard, red-bellied lemur, Siberian tiger and black rhinoceros. These animals are divided into various exhibits, including Bear Mountain, Primate Panorama, Elephant Passage and Benson Ridge.
Built in 1918, this was the zoo’s first naturalistic habitat in North America to house an orphaned black bear cub that was presented to the mayor of Denver. Back then, this was a revolutionary design because people were able to view animals at eye level without visible bars or fences. At the same time, its enclosures were landscaped such that the animals could roam about in man-made surroundings that were modeled after their natural habitats, rather than in tiny confined spaces. The historic exhibit is now officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Currently, the exhibit contains grizzly bears, Asiatic black bears and coati. Other features in the section are Monkey Island and Sheep Mountain, two all-time favorites among children. The former features an island housing spider monkeys, langurs and capuchin monkeys, while aquatic birds live in the moat surrounding it. Kids will enjoy the train ride, carousel and woodland garden that are found in the area.
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The award-winning Predator Ridge houses the zoo’s African animals, including two prides of lions, hyenas and African wild dogs. In 2006, it won the prestigious Association of Zoos and Aquariums ‘Exhibit of the Year’ award that recognizes the zoo’s excellence in conserving and constructing exhibit space that preserves the animal’s health and well-being.
Staying true to its theme, the exhibit was designed to recreate part of the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya with rock outcroppings, native brush and termite mounds. Apart from its naturalistic design, it is also unique because of its rotational exhibit approach that targets social African carnivores.
The animals are alternated among three different habitats to encourage their instinctive development because the odor left behind by previous inhabitants are supposed to stimulate their sense of smell and encourage them to mark their territories. The aim of this flexible arrangement is to regularly arouse their natural behavior and expand their experiences. This also provides them with exercise opportunities to keep fit physically. Furthermore, repeat visitors are treated to a potentially different animal viewing experience here.
The zoo describes the Elephant Passage as the facility’s ‘crown jewel’ with more than 10 acres of land dedicated to showcasing animals from Asia. Some of the animals featured are greater one-horned rhinos, Malayan tapirs and clouded leopards. Most notably, the exhibit has one of the largest elephant habitats in North America, which also has a significant population of bull elephants. An interesting fun fact is that the zoo pumps in more than one million gallons of water to ensure that the animals have enough water for swimming and bathing.
Like the Predator Ridge, animals in this compound are also routinely rotated among five yards, with the sixth exclusively reserved for the tapirs. Three animal crossings stretching more than 2 miles are built to accommodate these movements. The design of habitats in this section encompasses features such as mud wallows, scratching trees and shade structures. Guests can also expect to see gibbons swinging over their heads.
The exhibition also shows how humans interact and coexist with wildlife and the environment in Asia, such as the destructive powers that elephants can cause to rural villages and how Asian religions relate to animals. Along the way, they highlight the rich cultural connection people have with animals and emphasize on the importance of protecting places for wildlife. Additionally, there is a daily giraffe feeding session where visitors can hand-feed the world’s tallest land creature.
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