Making a zoo is not a cheap business; operating and developing projects have required huge amounts of money since the earliest ages. Zoos have to meet the demands of their respective societies; in the modern age they have to attract visitors to achieve their goals and to make a profit. The newly established complex exhibition systems of the recent decades are not only spectacular but also provide suitable habitats and an emphasized natural atmosphere for the animals. The original idea behind this kind of versatile exhibition is not new of course; it came from Hagenbeck’s zoo in Hamburg, but in the modern era it has been refined to be even more perfect and interactive. However, these new developments are more expensive than anything before. Usually the zoos cannot raise enough money from their operating budgets to accomplish these grandiose projects by themselves, so they need financial support in addition to their annual budgets. The governments are often the sources of this support, so eventually the taxpayers who may visit these zoos in the future finance their development. This is especially true for the United States, where sponsors play a crucial role in raising funds. In exchange, the zoos indicate the main sponsors in the names of the new exhibits. Finally, there is an adventurous kind of investment: taking loans… in this case I don’t envy the managers during the early years.
In addition, big projects are not obviously successful – there are many critical points, from the planning phase, through the accomplishment, to maintenance. A professional management and supportive economic and political background can solve these problems; otherwise the investment can easily lead to collapse… There are examples for bankrupt zoos too, I will write about them in a following article. But now, after this short introduction, let’s see some huge investments from the recent years.
1. Giants of the Savanna – Dallas Zoo (2010)
There is little doubt that the fauna of African savannas is the most popular in the world’s zoos; so many institutions choose this theme when they want to step forward with a revolutionary investment. One of the first developments which exhibited African animals and provided adventure to visitors in a modern complex exhibit system was the Giants of the Savanna in Dallas Zoo. The home of elephants, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, lions, warthogs, red river hogs, guinea fowl, and cheetahs is situated on about 4.5 hectares. The Giants of the Savanna was recognised for Significant Achievement with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ 2011 Exhibit Award.
The exhibit cost 30 million US dollars (about 27 million euros). The City of Dallas and sponsors funded the investment.
2. African Grasslands – Omaha Zoo (2016)
An African theme again: after two years of construction the new exhibit system of Omaha Zoo can expect positive feedback from the visitors. The area of the complex is 11.3 hectares, which includes a giraffe exhibit and an encounter area where visitors can feed giraffes, elephant quarters, pygmy goat kraal, African lodge, lake of pelicans, cheetah and lion exhibits, habitats of sable antelopes and bongos, tent camp, and the “Wildlife Management Headquarters”. As you can see from the list of attractions, the level of African atmosphere is maximal.
The cost of the development was about 75 million US dollars (more than 60 million euros). Money for the project was donated by individuals (56%), foundations (42%), corporations (1%) and government sources (1%).
3. Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks – San Diego (2017)
Yet another African theme – still under construction, to be opened in 2017 at San Diego Zoo for their 100th anniversary. This development will replace the old exhibits that had been built in the 1930s. The exhibition complex will provide an exciting tour through Africa, showing all habitat types of the continent. The first area will be the kopje gardens, home to the klipspringer and rock hyrax exhibits. Following the kopje gardens, visitors will be led to the Savannah habitats, which will be home to zebras, ratel, hornbills, and baboons. After leaving the savannas visitors will encounter African tropical forests, home to leopards, vervet monkeys, and an aviary. There will be some Madagascar exhibits too (lemurs, fossa, and crocodiles). The major part of Africa Rocks will be the Penguin Beach, home to a colony of African penguins, with an underwater viewing perspective into the penguins’ 60,000-gallon pool.
The budget for the project is 68 million US dollars (about 60 million euros), which is the largest expansion project in the zoo’s 100-year history. More than 4,500 individual donors, including the visionary gift of $11 million from Conrad Prebys, have contributed to the Africa Rocks Campaign. Additional funds have been generously given by other principal donors, corporations, private foundations and estate gifts.
4, Afrykarium, Wroclaw (2014)
Africa again, but the black concrete monolith in this Polish zoo looks different from the previous developments. It is a very modern piece of architecture, a three-storey building on an area of nearly 1.9 hectares, with 7500 m2 of outdoor exhibits attached as well. There are 5 parts in the building, each representing an African biotope, including its every aspect from the living creatures themselves to their conservation problems: Red Sea, Exposition of the Nile and African Great Lakes, Mozambique Channel, Skeleton Coast of Namibia, and Congo Rainforest.
The cost of the project was 48 million euros (then 60 million US dollars), which is a huge amount for an Eastern European country. A Polish bank invested about 45 million euros into the project; the zoo (with some city support) will have to repay it while maintaining the project too. The management assumed drastically increased visitor number (besides raising the price of the ticket from 30 zloty to 40 zloty), which is an important condition of maintaining the project. In 2015 the zoo reached the goal of 1.9 million visitors, according to the news 2016 has also been successful. Nevertheless, it still looks very risky…
5, Kaeng Krachan Elephant House - Zürich Zoo (2014)
Kaeng Krachan is a national elephant park in Thailand, where Zürich Zoo supports a project to protect Asian elephants – support and cooperation similar to the wonderful Malagasy Masoala exhibit next to the new facility. The new Asian elephant house is a strange building. It was special to develop an architectural language in which architecture and landscape are in a symbiotic relationship. The house looks like a flat, free-form wooden shell which was fitted with 271 skylights made of UV-permeable ETFE film. The web-like, transparent, organic structure blends into its forest surroundings. The indoor enclosure has a diameter of 80 meters with no columns or other supporting elements on the inside. Visitors can view swimming elephants through a glass wall. According to Zürich Zoo, sustainability was a high priority during the construction. The structure is heated by a district heating system using the central woodchip heater of the zoo. Rainwater is collected on the roof and used for ground-level irrigation, moistening the sand, dusting the plants, and for the basin system.
The cost of the project was about 60 million US dollars (about 50 million euros). It was financed through foundation grants, legacies and sums donated by 5,500 individuals.
6. Yukon Bay – Hanover Zoo (2010)
It is beyond question that the new trends of zoo development spread from North America, but it is still strange if a whole part of North America moves to Europe. However it is true: the “fashion leader” European zoo in Hanover created a Canadian coastal town and its surroundings. An old mine shaft leads to the theme world Yukon Bay, where wolves, caribous, prairie dogs, and bisons can be seen. In the harbour, Henry’s Underwater World in the hull of the sunken "Yukon Queen" offers a view on diving polar bears, seals, and penguins (which is strange enough, since these birds don’t live in North America). The area is more than 2.6 hectares and includes huge salt water pools as well.
Yukon Bay was built in collaboration with the Yukon Territory (Canada). It cost 35 million euros (about 31 million US dollars), which support came from the city, the state, and from the European Union.
7. Gondwanaland – Leipzig Zoo (2011)
Actually (at the end of 2016) this is the world’s largest indoor rainforest hall on 1.65 hectares, the roof reaching a height of 34 meters, allowing sufficient room for tropical trees to grow. The huge structure is the home of about 100 animal species as well as 17,000 tropical plants, which live at temperatures of 24 to 26° C and humidity of 65 to 100 percent. As the Gondwana name implies, this exhibition is not focused on a specific continent, there are species from Africa, Asia and America. Sustainability was an important factor during the planning, so it is covered with a cantilever steel-girder construction into which 407 foil cushions are embedded. The transparent foil cushions do not only enable a 100 percent radiation of UV rays that are so important for the plants and animals living here, but also allow thermal energy generated from waste air to be stored in a 100,000 litre energy accumulator, which can then be used at night for heating (according to the website of Leipzig Zoo).
About 66.8 million euros (then about 90 million US dollars) were invested altogether. The State of Saxony offered 32 million euros, the City of Leipzig gave 11.5 million euros, and over 23 million was provided by the zoo itself. 1.6 million euros came from donations and animal sponsorships.