What comes to mind when you think about
zoos? Well animals, of course! But just imagine a zoo without plants...
Animal exhibits lacking the natural effect that plants provide. Few
places for animals to interact, and visitor areas without plant
displays and shady spaces to retreat to. What is "zoo horticulture"? A
simple description might be "gardening
and landscaping activities which occur in a zoo or aquarium setting."
But there is so much more!
Zoo horticulture encompasses
range from exhibit/landscape design, development, and installation, to
plant material within exhibits and visitor areas; from providing plant
material for animal "diets" and "enrichment" (things that "enrich" the
lives of zoo animals), to assisting zookeepers in identifying
potentially toxic plants; from establishing interesting plant
collections to promoting the awareness of plants and plant
conservation. Zoo horticulture is so much more than just
gardening and landscaping!
Animal exhibit and landscape development
Most modern zoo exhibits incorporate the idea of placing animal species
within the context of a "natural" environment as much as is
possible. Plant materials, both living and non-living (such as logs,
limbs), are vital to creating this natural environment. The zoo
horticulturist is an important part of the planning and design process,
and installation of new zoo exhibits. The zoo horticulturist interacts
with architects, animal curators, administrative staff, construction
companies, landscape contractors, nurserymen, and others in all stages
of exhibit development. As an adviser to the project, the zoo
horticulturist recommends suitable plant materials and offers
strategies to ensure critical plant requirements are met for the
successful growth and development of plants used in the project.
Managing landscapes within exhibits and visitor areas
The zoo environment is a "rigorous" environment for plants to say the
least! The zoo horticulturist is challenged with the task of keeping
exhibits looking natural and "fresh"—not an easy task when one
considers the "abuse" which plants incur. Whether it's soil compaction
from hoof stock such as zebras, giraffes, etc. or defoliation from
herbivores, plants are damaged or have difficult growing conditions to contend with, and it's the zoo horticulturist's job to meet the challenge!
Development of browse and plants for animal enrichment
The zoo horticulturist is called on to assist curators, zookeepers, and
commissary managers in identifying, locating, and nurturing plant
materials for a zoo's animal collection. The zoo horticulturist's
knowledge is invaluable in providing "browse" plants for specialized
animal diets and supplementing regular diets. Many zoos maintain blocks
of plants ("browse") specially suited and available for the dietary needs
of the zoo's animal collection. Of special concern is the
identification of potentially toxic plants and ensuring that zoo animals
do not have access to them.
Establishing interesting plant collections
At the heart of the horticulturist or gardener is a desire to share the
world of plants with others, and what better way than to establish and
maintain collections of plants to capture the interest of zoo visitors.
Zoos are often recognized for their beautiful, engaging collections of
plants. Plant collections allow visitors to learn fascinating facts about plants and their importance to all life on earth.
Conservation of plants and the environment
Zoo horticulturists are actively involved in conservation efforts and
reminding the public that many plant species are also threatened from habitat destruction and other forces. Zoo horticulturists are often the key people in their institution's efforts to "reduce, reuse, and recycle." Composting of zoo wastes is often the job of the horticulture/grounds maintenance department.