New Home for our Friends at the San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo’s newest exhibit, a habitat for Asian Amur and Snow Leopards, is similar to other projects for the Mountain Lions and Polar Bears that we've created for the zoo in the past. Projects like these pose different challenges dealing with our furred friends. We love it, its fun and offers many benefits to the zoo and visitors alike. The new habitat opened June 4 to the public.
“One of the exciting aspects of this Asian Leopard exhibit is that it puts us in a position to be in breeding programs for all five of the big cat species,” said Stacey Johnson, director of collections for San Diego Zoo Global. The Amur Leopards are considered to be critically endangered, as there are only 300 of the cats in zoos, and just 40 individuals left in its native habitat of southern Russia and northern China.
MLA's zoo projects are special because the end-user is so different from our customary clients. Special care has to be taken in choosing both irrigation methods and plant material. Grasses need to be safe for the animals—no stickers in their noses—and we have a limited plant palette due to possible plant toxicity in case of ingestion. Irrigating the enclosures also requires creative solutions, as the animals need to be provided with shelter when plants are watered, and any equipment provided within the enclosure has to be protected.
Our plant choices were led by research into the animals’ native habitats, which vary wildly from the rocky slopes, mountain steppes and juniper forests from Russia, Turkey and northeastern China. The exhibit is, to some extent, an extension of the Panda Trek next door to it. The intention was for a seamless transition from one project to the next, in both character and plant palette.
We collaborated closely with the architects and zoo staff, especially individuals in the zoo's horticulture department. The end result is a state-of-art habitat that provides a home for the Amur and Snow Leopards, whether they are climbing across the walks overhead, or lounging in the landscaped area below.