What's next for Islands?
This time last year, we were gearing up for the opening of Islands – the biggest development in UK zoo history! Development director at Chester Zoo, Simon Mann, reflects on his biggest development project yet and shares what’s next for Islands.
“One year on from opening Islands and we’re seeing the development really come in to its own. This was always a landscape project for me. The buildings and the infrastructure work made up so much of the build time and budget, but were always designed to be subservient to the plants, giving visitors are really good sense of the experience of visting the forests and villages of South East Asia. Now the planting has matured it’s great to see Islands as we envisioned it.
“I’m often asked if I’m proud of Islands but in true Chester Zoo style my response is that we’re ‘always building’ and so my team are already looking ahead to what’s next. We’ve learned lots of lessons from the building of Islands. Over the last year we’ve had time to reflect on the best elements from the project and to review our priorities in terms of the conservation impact of our work. We’re now ready to start work on the next phase of the Islands adventure.”
“From September we’ll be developing more of the land between the existing tiger habitat and Monsoon Forest…
“More animal species – we’re keen that we bring together the South East Asian species that currently live elsewhere in the zoo; so we’re building new habitats for the Malayan tapir, Sun bears and Indonesian songbirds. We’re also bringing a brand new animal to the collection, the binturong, a vulnerable Indonesian mammal sometimes referred to as a ‘bear cat’. These species have been specifically selected by our animal experts because they are native to South East Asia and because of their conservation status. The sun bear and songbirds also give us an opportunity to tell visitors more about the illegal wildlife trade and the impact it has on these animals.
“More immersive habitats – we want visitors to feel as though they really have stepped out of the UK and in to South East Asia so another immersive aviary, home to the songbirds, will bring together dense planting and streams and waterfalls - a completely immersive environment in which to enjoy these amazing birds. Visitors will also be able to step off the paths to take their time observing the mammals in world class viewing areas, many undercover to avoid the inevitable rain in Chester.
“More mixed species habitats – A key lesson that we hope visitors take away from their visit is that all wildlife is interconnected, living side by side in the natural world. By creating a habitat that the sun bear and binturong will share we’ll give visitors a wonderful experience and also offer the animals further enrichment opportunities.
“More viewing areas – our priority is ensuring that the animals are able to move around their enclosure so we try to make the experience of viewing our animals as active an experience as possible. By offering multiple viewing points around the route, incorporating views in to indoor houses and the outdoor paddocks the visitors can make choices about the best vantage points to get a great view of the animals. We’re hoping that this process will make visitors feel like real life conservationists.
“We’re still awaiting planning approval for the development but all being well we’ll make a start in September. We’ll be re-routing the pathway through Islands, so visitors will head back from the tiger tunnel on Sumatra to Bali and access Monsoon Forest from there.”
We’ll keep you updated with all of the news from Islands as the build progresses; sign up for our emails or explore our Islands pages for the latest updates.