The Zoo of the Future Has No Cages, But is it a Win for Captive Animals?
Danish architects are taking on the task of creating a zoo environment that will change what the face of captivity looks like in the future with the reveal of plans for what it’s calling the “world’s most advanced zoo.”
The Givskud Zoo in Denmark has accepted a design from the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) that has no cages and will allow animals to live in environments that mimic their natural habitats. The first phase is expected to be completed by 2019, just in time for the park’s 50th anniversary.
The project is being called “Zootopia” and, according to the architects, while creating a “framework for such diverse users and residents such as gorillas, wolves, bears, lions and elephants is an extremely complex task,” they believe it will create “the best possible and freest possible environment for the animals’ lives and relationships with each other and visitors.”
“Rather than looking at a single animal alone in a cage, which is a very unnatural way of experiencing an animal, sometimes you’re outnumbered by the animals and you see them in a real habitat,” Bjarke Ingels, founder of BIG, told USA Today.
The details are still being worked out, but the changes will be dramatic. Visitors will enter into a complex that overlooks habitats and can venture into other areas that represent Africa, America and Asia, which will be connected by a hiking trail.
Buildings designed for visitors will be camouflaged and cages and barriers will be removed to let animals roam freely. Instead, they’ll use waterways or changes in elevation as natural barriers to separate them.
According to Slate, the architects have come up with a number of ways to hide visitors that may include using mirrors to deflect their presence and allowing visitors to view the captive wildlife on a hiking trail around the complex or by bike, boat or from above.
It looks pleasant in theory, but does giving a zoo a facelift fix the problems that anti-captivity advocates have with zoos? It might be an upgrade from the depressing enclosures found in most zoos, but still doesn’t address unnecessarily keeping wild animals in captivity just so we can gawk at them. It also doesn’t address the issue of keeping animals in an inappropriate climate, deal with breeding, selling and killing surplus animals, or do anything to really support in situ conservation for imperiled species, which they are in dire need of.
“Well, ‘on paper’ this seems better for the animals and it probably would be for some of them,” Dr. Lori Marino told the HuffPost. “In the end, however, because it is a zoo it will have to turn a profit and the priority will be on that goal — not on the animals. We’ll see how this goes. If it turns out to be more of a sanctuary than a commercial zoo then it could be worthwhile.”
Meanwhile there are plenty of ways to connect with, and learn about wildlife, without contributing to the captivity industry. We can get outside and take advantage of one of the hundreds of parks in our National Park System, which will also support their preservation, watch a documentary, visit a wildlife sanctuary or check out one of the zillion webcams that offer us a glimpse into the lives of a variety of animals who are living free in the wild on sites like Explore.org.
Photo credit: Bjarke Ingels Group via Arch Daily