Cover photo: PGAV
The Big Bear Alpine Zoo in California got its start in 1959 when a forest fire led to the discovery of two orphaned bobcats and an orphaned black bear, which were the zoo’s first three residents. Since then, the facility has grown as a rescue center for injured, orphaned, and abandoned animals.
As the zoo has grown, so have its challenges, as many of its animals have unique disabilities that require special accommodations in their exhibits, such as a three-legged black bear and two one-eyed snow leopards currently living at the zoo. PGAV, one of the nation’s leading architectural zoo design firms, was hired to develop plans for the zoo to be relocated, and construction on the new facility began last year.
One of their largest challenges in designing the new facility was that the zoo’s entire collection is made up of rescued animals, and so the species and number of each species living at the zoo will constantly be changing. Because of this, the exhibits had to be designed with extreme flexibility so that they could be used by several species in various social groupings.
Due to this constraint, the exhibits were designed and grouped together based on generalized animal behavior patterns. For example, one section, called “Explorers,” contains exhibits for charismatic, active, and intelligent animals, such as black bears and raccoons, which benefit from wide varieties of training programs and enrichment opportunities. One special feature, a training panel, will allow guests to watch trainers interacting with the animals and teaching them husbandry behaviors so that they can participate in their own health care.
Another section, called “Climbers,” contains exhibits with many elevation changes throughout, which is ideal for the big cats residing at the zoo, such as the snow leopards and a pair of orphaned sibling mountain lions. The big cat complex will include overhead bridges for the animals to watch guests from above, which is a trend being successfully incorporated into many new exhibits across the country. The zoo’s collection of rescued birds and raptors will also be present in this area.
The final section, called “Roamers,” is designed with primarily terrestrial species in mind that, as the name would suggest, spend much of their time roaming. Many of these exhibits are linked together with a system of gates, which will allow the animal care staff to work variability into the animals’ daily lives by providing them with access to different exhibits throughout the day.
When the Big Bear Alpine Zoo officially opens at its new location, hopefully in spring of 2018, it will provide its guests with an incredible opportunity to see rescued animals who could not be reintroduced to the wild. These rescued animals are being given a second chance at life as ambassadors for their species. Zoos and aquariums all around the world operate similar rescue programs, which save thousands of animals every year.
As the Big Bear Alpine Zoo is being built, a go-fund-me page for the project has been set up, so if you would like to support this facility and the rescues they have done and will continue to do, please consider donating towards the cause.