Tiger Territory – London Zoo’s Next Exhibit
London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo, having opened in 1828 for academic study before opening to the public in 1947. It is home to over 750 different species and over seventeen-thousand individual animals. In February 2011 the zoo launched a new cause known as ‘Tiger S.O.S.’ to raise money for the endangered Sumatran Tiger. These funds would support existing projects in Indonesia and help to build a new exhibit and conservation centre at London Zoo.
The new exhibit, Tiger Territory, has been opened today by Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, before it welcomes its first public visitors in two days time. It will be the new home to critically-endangered Sumatran tigers. The 186-year-old premises have undergone a massive redevelopment to make way for the 2,500sqm (27,000sqft) enclosure.
Visitors are promised a wonderful journey through an Indonesian habitat, coming face-to-face with beautiful tigers in an exhibit designed with London Zoo’s team of tiger keepers, conservationists and experts to ensure that it perfectly suits the big cats’ needs. The project is the biggest undertaking since the construction of Gorilla Kingdom in 2007, costing an estimated £3.6m and taking six months to complete.
The Tiger Territory enclosure offers elevated platforms and trees to encourage the tigers to climb as well as features such as a swimming pool and heated rocks. Architect Michael Kozdon explains how the enclose is designed to fade into the background; “In the past animal enclosures were all about creating an iconic architectural statement. Now the emphasis is on animal welfare, on bringing visitors as close to the creatures as possible. Our aim is to disappear.”
The enclosure was built largely as a result of a public fundraising campaign, with Jae Jae and Melati being its first residents. The Zoo are hoping to be able to hoping to breed the tigers and learn more about their behaviour to apply it to field conservation projects. There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remaining in forests in Indonesia with deforestation and poaching meaning the tiger is dangerously close to extinction.
London Zoo is famous for many architectural marvels, perhaps the most popular of which being the penguin pool, designed by the Russian Berthold Lubetkin. It was unveiled in 1934 and featured a spiral-ramped helix, over the pool. Unfortunately, it now sits empty as the bright white surfaces apparently damaged the penguins’ eyes, and the concrete was too hard on their feet. The tiger enclosure is unlikely to draw the crowds for its architectural opulence, however, putting the tigers at the front and centre as well as ensuring their comfort, is an architectural feat in itself.