Land of the Lions | Making Nature: How we see animals
Articles,  Blog

Land of the Lions | Making Nature: How we see animals

Over the last century, the way zoos
have created their environments for the animals has changed dramatically. As we developed and our
knowledge of animal care developed, making much more stimulating
habitats for the animals, enriching the environments,
became very, very important. Now we are moving very much
into creating habitats that still have that enriched
environment for the animal but also the enriched environment
for the visitor so that we have moved from commercial
to medical and care, to actually now it’s very much about connection. We are connecting people through our animals
and through our animals’ environments. Animals bring the best out of people.
Zoos have a great way to bridge that. Immersive exhibits have been
done for some time in zoos but what’s different about Land of the Lions is the link that we provide
from the zoos to the wild. It’s been very, very important to us
to make that fundamental link that ZSL is working with animals
and caring for animals in the zoo but also caring for animals in Gujarat. And the stories that we put
around here in the zoo about lions are from India and
how close they live to people, is vitally important in terms of the messaging and indeed the conservation work
that we are doing. We understand our world through our five senses, so from what we see, what we touch,
what we smell, we taste, and so the no barrier design process
is very much about cutting out all barriers. So, to give you an example,
here we’ve got vertical cables and so once you are standing face to face
with the animal, you don’t see the barrier at all. Also, you smell the animal,
you can feel that low bass rumble, you know, which is truly transformational, you know, as a human to another animal. Traditionally, spaces have been
given over to visitors and operations more so than animals but that’s moving dramatically
over towards the animals. And by creating immersive
environments like we have here, by the nature of visitors being
inside the spaces, by their very nature then the
animals have more space and all those benefits that come from there. But when you get that
virtuous circle of humans, the visitors and the animals absolutely
enjoying the environments together, and that enjoyment may also
be a little bit of terror as well. We are hardwired to fear
and vice versa, which is interesting. It’s not meant to be a
walk in the park as it were. If you come face to face with a lion something should happen to you and
something should happen to the animal. So again, those things are very much considered,
with the balance of space. But particularly in urban zoos where
you have this almost limited defined space, that becomes really a primary consideration
at the very start of any project. The other thing of course is that you see
animals from different vantage points and that’s a different experience altogether. We love being, even if it’s two metres higher,
as humans, you know we ground well. So being just high, that’s spectacular, which is why we always want to
stand on our toes and look. But the other important thing
we tried to do here is actually get visitors in each shot, so it’s not just an animal theatre,
as it were, you’ve got actual people behind the animal. And in that way, it sets off
a very, very different experience Again, it comes back to we’re in the
animal’s world as opposed to vice versa. We do spend a lot of time designing
an environment that is flexible because animal personalities, they do
certainly have personalities, but they change. So, the important thing in every
environment that we design is flexibility. So the animals can choose where they go, they can choose the different
substrates they want to be on, they can choose which area
they want to be on, they can also choose whether
they want to be on show or not. If they want to get away
from the visitors, they can do. One of our main learning outcomes was that the UK audience
understand how closely people in Gujarat and the
Gir Forest live alongside lions. You can wake up in the morning with
a lion in your back yard; you really can. But people live alongside them. That has huge lessons for us in the UK. If people in India can live alongside lions
surely we can live alongside badgers, surely we can live alongside hedgehogs
and not destroy their habitat but promote it. So, working to live alongside animals
in a cooperative way, we’ve got lessons to learn from elsewhere. The vital role that zoos play in conservation is now recognised by conservation bodies
across the globe and it is essential. We are organisations that care
not just for lions and tigers, but for the freshwater fish, for the snails,
for the species that sometimes get ignored. But zoos have an immense role to play
in just connecting people with nature. That ability to evoke emotions, for people
who might come to the zoo for a day out, they leave just loving animals
a little bit more. And that is a huge, huge role especially when most of our zoos
are in urban environments.

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