It is seeing the animal as an integral part of the ecosystem: Coe

‘Landscape immersion', the popular design concept of virtually ‘immersing' the visitor in the same natural habitat as the animal, is the best bet for any zoo even today, says Zoo design ‘guru' Jon Charles Coe.

Mr. Coe, who coined the term landscape immersion along with another zoo design pioneer Grant Jones, disagreed on Sunday with the view that it was time to look beyond this 30-year-old concept. “We cannot dump it. I do not see the evolution of a better alternative. All we could do is add few more innovative features to the basic design,” he told The Hindu.

When it was first introduced in Woodland Park Zoo's (in Seattle, U.S.) gorilla exhibit in 1978 by Mr. Coe and others, it heralded a philosophical shift from a homo-centric to a bio-centric view of the zoos. The design infused fresh thinking of seeing the animal as an integral part of the ecosystem and not just the centrepiece of a painted scene. Zoos started recreating ‘natural' places in an effort to connect people to nature and wildlife.

In Hyderabad to participate in a workshop on “Designing of enclosures, landscape planning and master plan for zoos,” attended by directors of zoos across India, Mr. Coe said: “Animal exhibits are the zoo's natural voice, the best means available to communicate our message to the public and bring about positive change in their attitudes about wildlife.

“If the purpose of zoos is to encourage the public to see and understand animals, then we should present animals in ways which lead to learning — not only factual, cognitive learning, but the more illusive emotional learning. Landscape immersion or naturalistic animal display evolved with this vision and field evaluations show good results.”

Mr. Coe had done 160 planning and design projects for over 82 zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, theme and nature parks in 13 nations.

On other newer design trends, he said cultural resonance, focussing on inter-relationship between traditional people and wildlife, had made a strong comeback. The most recent trend is the ‘rotation design' of shifting animals between different exhibit areas on a regular basis. In the near future, he foresaw increased use and integration of technology like visitors being provided smartphones or allowed to operate remote video cameras placed behind a lion or tiger enclosure.

He had a good word for Indian zoo designing: they were contemporary but required changes here and there. “The best part is I do not see much of animal abuse anymore as was the case earlier.”