Going to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo can often feel like visiting another world—and that feeling is now even more amplified, thanks to the recent debut of the Asian Highlands. The $5.8 million addition to the Zoo highlights species such as Amur and snow leopards, red pandas, and takin (a type of goat-antelope that is new to the Zoo).SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave
“The Asian Highlands [concept] has been in the planning and building process for two years,” shares Dr. Christopher Kuhar, the Zoo's executive director. “It started from a desire to identify exhibits that we felt needed to be updated and do that in a way that had a long-term vision for aligning some of our species—all of which are found at altitude throughout Asia.”
The new 1.3-acre area utilizes formerly unused space within the Zoo’s Wilderness Trek area, which Kuhar says “has brought life to one of the older areas of the Zoo.”
One of the earmarks of the Asian Highlands is larger, interconnected habitats—for instance, the leopard yards now offer three times more space, whereas the Zoo’s two red pandas now have 25 percent more space. Cooling elements and climbing structures have also been added to enhance the habitats.
“In addition to increasing the footprint of the exhibit spaces, the leopard and panda habitats are netted which allows us to use the three-dimensional space a bit more,” says Kuhar. “It provides the animals the opportunity to climb around—they like to get up high and look down on the world.”
As visitors explore the Asian Highlands, they might see snow leopards perching on top of moon gates (a traditional architectural elements found in Chinese gardens), or notice Chinese characters that represent words like “stewardship” and “conservation.”
The visual nods to conservation aren’t just lip service, as 50 cents out of every ticketed admission goes toward the Zoo's Future for Wildlife fund, which supports both the Snow Leopard Trust and the Red Panda Network. The Asian Highlands also features an educational plaza, where visitors can watch videos of the featured animals in the wild and learn more about conservation issues they face. (The Amur leopard is the most endangered big cat species on Earth with fewer than 100 animals left in the wild.)
“We really want to be ambassadors for conservation, and that will be the focus of our capital growth over the next few decades,” says Kuhar.
Case in point: the new Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Welcome Pavilion, which debuted in early June. The pavilion features educational videos and a unique “Quarters for Conservation” station, at which guests use a token they are given as they enter the zoo to vote for one of six conservation projects.
It’s all part of a concerted effort to get Clevelanders thinking about wildlife conservation and the Zoo's growing role in it.
“Zoos have the unique opportunity to reach out to people and provide an entry point into discussions and actions related to conservation,” says Kuhar. “1.1 million people come through our doors every year—not all of those people are thinking about conservation when they arrive, but by providing great experiences, they’re at least a little bit inspired when they leave.”