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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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dusty754 May 07 2014 at 8:52 PM

Beware of crouching tiger? Big cat may be taking a bathroom break on his way to where ever he is heading. Look out for yellow rain.

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kenbushway May 07 2014 at 6:12 PM

"Yet humans can safely gawk"

That is whole point of a zoo and the exact reason it shouldn't exist, though not the only one. If you really love animal folks, never go to a zoo and never go an aquarium if you love dolphins. These places shouldn't exist, they serve no purpose and that include no educational purpose.

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2 replies
Chris kenbushway May 07 2014 at 6:32 PM

Do you really think the only purpose of zoos is for us to gawk at wildlife? You need to do some research. Zoos contribute more than 50% of total money donated towards conservation efforts. Zoos are the only true resource to teach children about wildlife. Or society has has forced zoos into a monopoly for teaching our young about wildlife. Zoos also one of the only sources that actively combat extinction. Some animals that are in Zoo's can only be in zoos because their entire habitats have been destroyed. People complain about zoos and how cruel they are, but they don't even come close to providing the support to save wildlife that zoos do. You get rid of zoos and you doom all those who they try so hard to save. Not to mention zoos also save and provide habitats to animals that can no longer survive in the wild. Zoos primary objective is to save animal species.

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THE CANNONS kenbushway May 07 2014 at 6:45 PM

Partially incorrect. Zoos allow people to see animals that need our help. People tend to help or donate if they feel connected to them. Some zoos are very educational. We do however need to change the living quarters of zoos. Each animal should live in a sizable area & resemble what their natural habitat would look like. Sadly the owners of the zoos put profit before animals. It could be done correctly, hopefully future zoologist fight for the rights of these wonderful, majestic beings. I do think this zoo allowing the big cats to safely roam is a great idea. These animals are already captive so they wouldn't survive if released into their original locations. The best we can do for them now is make their lives happy, safe & give them the closest thing to being wild & free.

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k3ac May 07 2014 at 5:53 PM

Yes, there probably should be plexiglass, or some similar clear barrier material around the tubes so hooligans don't shoot BB's, water pistols, spit balls, etc. at the animals. You know it's going to happen - just a matter of time. And that is really going to piss the animals off and make them afraid of walking through the tubes.

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1 reply
hellyon3too k3ac May 07 2014 at 10:56 PM

Putting plexiglass or a similar material around the tubes would turn them into ovens. Even on cool days they could quickly become too hot to be safe for the cats to walk through.

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iluvsugrray May 07 2014 at 5:28 PM

Wonderful idea. The Bronx Zoo should take note.

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phoebus61 May 07 2014 at 5:02 PM

That is so cool! What a great idea!

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pasilv May 07 2014 at 10:53 PM

I wonder what happens to those below if an animal decides to mark his territory, if you know what I mean?

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skiggz374 May 07 2014 at 4:43 PM

I hope they eat everyone. No living thing deserves to be chained or behind bars without just cause.

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2 replies
frankdodgee skiggz374 May 07 2014 at 5:12 PM

yayyy, agree, good for you, zoo's are sad depressing places

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fiefersunfire skiggz374 May 07 2014 at 7:55 PM

Finally, is there really someone sane out there?

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Debbie May 07 2014 at 4:34 PM

Being in a zoo has some hazards like being sprayed and if your too near a seal inclosure then you can be sprayed by the seals in water....it happends just go home and take a long hot shower with plenty of perfume soap lol
May God watch over you and have a great evening

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Marlene May 07 2014 at 6:29 PM

Kudos to the person who came up with this idea. Everyone benefits !

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parrot2473 May 07 2014 at 11:20 PM

excellent idea and great stimulation for the animals.

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