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Philadelphia Zoo lets tigers stretch legs on trail

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Visitors to the Philadelphia Zoo might want to beware of stray cats: A new enclosed passageway allows lions and tigers to roam outside their exhibits.

Yet humans can safely gawk at the predators traveling along Big Cat Crossing. The protected, open-air path snakes above the felines' habitat to an archway over the zoo's main promenade, ending at a viewing spot along a lake.

The concept for the catwalk unveiled Wednesday stems from the increasingly common practice of animal rotation, which lets animals take in new stimuli while visitors encounter them in unexpected places.

"It becomes much more of a safari-like experience," said Philadelphia Zoo CEO Andrew Baker.

The $2.3 million project, paid for with state and private funds, is the latest addition to the zoo's comprehensive travel system.

Within the past three years, it opened Treetop Trail to permit small primates to scamper along a suspended path through the property, while the Great Ape Trail offers an outlet for orangutans to explore.

While the trails system was primarily designed to improve animal well-being, "we realized that there were huge opportunities from the guest experience side as well," Baker said.

By that, Baker means that visitors might have to track down animals that aren't lolling around in their home habitats.

That might be fun for older kids, said Alexis Brookens, who visited the zoo Tuesday with a group including her 2-year-old daughter. But parents with younger children might prefer animals to stay in their assigned spaces, she said.

"I think it would be neat to see them walking around instead of just lounging," said Brookens, of Bear, Delaware.

Animal rotation exhibits have become more popular among U.S. institutions as "the public challenges zoos to improve," said Ed Hansen, CEO of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

Among the earliest efforts was the O Line at the National Zoo in Washington, which lets orangutans travel between enclosures by swinging from cables strung high above the property.

At the Denver Zoo, keepers rotate lions, African wild dogs and hyenas through a habitat. As the species alternate, the scents they leave behind stimulate the next occupants.

"It's to replicate the natural environment as best as we can," Hansen said. "It's enriching to their environment and their mental capacity."

In Philadelphia, Baker said the zoo has meshed those two concepts - travel and timeshare. Cats including lions, tigers, pumas, jaguars and leopards already rotate among five exhibits. Now, they'll take turns using Big Cat Crossing.

The zoo plans eventually to extend and connect all three trails. So in the winter, when it's too cold for orangutans to be outside, cats can discover the Great Ape Trail as well, said Baker.

Anecdotal evidence indicates animals are enjoying the trails and finding new stimuli, he said.

One species of monkey has been making territorial sounds that keepers typically don't hear. Another small primate, a mangabey, was once found on the trail watching a construction project that had captured his attention, Baker said.

On Tuesday, while eating lunch at a restaurant right next to the animal path, Noah Dzielak, 5, of Wilmington, Delaware, said he likes the idea of a tiger being able to walk around.

"Because then he can see the zoo," said Noah.

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okada02 May 07 2014 at 12:35 PM


Flag Reply +2 rate up
Jim May 07 2014 at 2:06 PM

sdnj. When one of the cats leaps over the fence and chows down on a zoo goer, they
will try to blame President Obama!

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2 replies
b515 Jim May 07 2014 at 2:13 PM

If that is the case then I prefer these cats roaming the halls of the white house...preferable the west wing.

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1 reply
kenbushway b515 May 07 2014 at 6:29 PM

Why so his daughters, the secret service men, his wife can all be killed because you have some sense of illogical hatred for the man, but I know its not because he's black. Don't worry no one could possible think that.

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The Lucky One Jim May 07 2014 at 2:38 PM

I think that's a GREAT idea, Jim. WOOHOO!!!!! "Obama let that man get mauled by a tiger!!!" Seriously???

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rcampbellx May 07 2014 at 1:31 PM

It would be great to let the natural food for the big cats roam among them.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
rosasturtles1 May 07 2014 at 2:05 PM

I hate zoos,animals need to be in the wild where they belong

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2 replies
zrsz1 rosasturtles1 May 07 2014 at 2:09 PM

i agree, but reality is reality,,,,

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1 reply
kenbushway zrsz1 May 07 2014 at 6:25 PM

And so because we capture and force them into slavery its okay to do it?

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b515 rosasturtles1 May 07 2014 at 2:12 PM

There are no poachers in zoos.

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2 replies
BRUCE b515 May 07 2014 at 3:33 PM

So many people jump so fast to conclusions that they don't consider the fact that with some species, the only way to keep them from becoming extinct is to place them in protective custody. What they are doing here is the correct way to keep them safe and let them still have a somewhat sense of still being free.

Flag +3 rate up
kenbushway b515 May 07 2014 at 6:25 PM

There is no freedom or a life either. Being look at throw a scope or through hundred of humans eyes at once is no different, difference is only one gives them real freedom and its not by the hundreds of humans.

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Shannon May 07 2014 at 12:58 PM

I remember years ago when I took my son and we were watching the tigers getting hosed off...one of them lifted his tail and blew the water out on 2 older teen girls while they were taking pictures...the look on their faces when they realized what hit them was something I will never forget.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
baileysno1lala May 07 2014 at 12:57 PM


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Angela Waltho-Huff May 07 2014 at 12:47 PM

Gorgeous.....just don't accidentally get pooped or peed on! lol

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Liebchken May 07 2014 at 12:46 PM

This is absolute animal engineering genius. Cats like to be over, not eye to eye or looked down upon by gawkers. Besides, they can look at all those people now like a candy box. Red head or brunette?,.... nom nom nom. Very cat cool.

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zrsz1 May 07 2014 at 1:57 PM

we were at the philly zoo years ago with our kids. we go into the lion exhibit and for some reason a crowd was gathered around this one cage. you couldn't see much so I wandered own to the next one. I'm all alone looking at this magnificent lioness so I start to growl real low and deep, and after a few seconds she starts,,i go a little louder and so does she,,long story short, after about a minute she starts to roar,,,man that was something, about 6 feet away from her and she's roaring like crazy,,,it was the coolest thing,,,now someone write in that I was abusing her,,

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
seabasskj zrsz1 May 07 2014 at 3:01 PM

You weren't abusing her, she was wanting to mate with you.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
madcap.1 May 07 2014 at 2:35 PM

what a great idea, why dont we put the people in these cages and the animals on the outside to look at the people

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
avilev madcap.1 May 07 2014 at 2:47 PM

Start with Khamenei, Ruhani, Assad, Nasrallah, etc. etc. etc.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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