INTERACTIVE MAP: The new 'new' zoo?

  • Updated: March 30, 2013 - 2:20 PM

The Minnesota Zoo's master plan lays out ambitious additions, including a horde of new animals – converting the Northern Trail to an Asia trail and adding a brand-new Africa trail -- as well as revenue-producing attractions such as an "adventure park," a tented camp and an events center.

An all-new 'African Trail' would bring big-ticket species such as lions and hippos to the zoo for the first time. This map of part of the trail from the zoo's master plan incorporates a mock fishing village with 'integrated guest facilities' such as restrooms and food vending, as well as 'unique viewing areas.'

The plan proposes bringing back meerkats, which have been absent from the zoo for years, as part of the new Africa trail. This portion of the trail would connect to a boardwalk that leads to a grasslands area.

New Africa exhibits would incorporate close-up viewing experiences, such as the sunken boat pictured above.

Lions, cheetahs and wild dogs, in addition to giraffes and other big African mammals, are the kinds of species that draw big crowds at other zoos, but which have been conspicuously absent from the Minnesota Zoo, except in temporary exhibitions.

The design of the proposed Africa trail is a clear departure from the way some of the original zoo exhibits were designed, with careful attention to sight lines and good vantage points for viewing.

"Some of Africa's apex predators, and the prey species they rely upon for survival, will be featured in a dramatic landscape centered around an iconic rock formation called a 'kopje,'" the zoo's master plan says.

The planned Crossroads Park would be at the intersection of the Family Farm, Asia Trail and Africa Trail areas - as the zoo's plan says, 'a place for orientation, rest, play, eating and shopping.'

Crossroads Park would include a carousel with profits going toward conservation projects, but also more opportunities for guests to spend on food and gift shop items, and a new picnic area that could be used by organized groups - which would augment their 'revenue generating capacity,' the plan says.  

The new Africa Trail would include a permanent place for animals such as giraffes and ostriches, which have been popular during temporary exhibits in the past. It could also feature a tented camp area, 'open by special invitation only,' where the zoo envisions groups staying overnight.

A giraffe feeding platform and rhino encounter area would 'generate magical moments for guests and revenue for the zoo,' the master plan says.

The tented camp area - which might look something like this image from the zoo's internal documents - could include tents on wooden platforms, an outdoor fire pit and gathering area, and a 'safari chic' events lounge, according to the master plan.  

The zoo's master plan talks about a need for new spaces for groups to assemble in 'attractive, semi-private settings within the zoo's boundaries.' This group picnic area is one such possibility. Many zoos have tried to cater to a different audience by offering such areas for rental by outside groups.  

Attractions such as a ropes course and zip line in a proposed 'adventure park' have been successful at other zoos, even though their connection to the mission of a zoo is debatable. There's no question, though, that they bring in big bucks: At other zoos, they cost several times the price of admission.  

The zoo's master plan says an adventure park would attract new audiences interested in 'high-level nature-based activities.' 'Significant attendance and revenue increases can be expected,' the plan says.  

A proposed 'Sumatran Longhouse' would provide another revenue-producing event space for the zoo. Visitors could gather for social get-togethers or business meetings in the midst of an exhibit featuring orangutans and other great apes. It would include two large meeting rooms with balconies overlooking the exhibit, with catering kitchens and service areas one floor below.  

A domed roof depicted above the orangutan forest partly answers the question of how such an exhibit could work in Minnesota's climate.

The exhibit could include siamang gibbons, the largest of the lesser apes.

A cave viewing area depicted here keeps with Zoo Director Lee Ehmke's style of exhibit design, which relies heavily on immersive experiences that mimic being in the wild and give visitors a closer look at the animals.  

The animals would have large indoor and outdoor spaces ideal for 'managing and propagating orangutans, siamangs and tapirs, all of which are extremely threatened in their shrinking home ranges in southeast Asia.'