Burgers' Zoo is known for its eco-displays: nature reserves where animals often live in great freedom amidst thousands of plants, and visitors can experience such a habitat up close. An eco-display is designed to imitate a specific ecosystem as realistically as possible. What does that mean in practice? What are some of the characteristic features of an eco-display? What do biologists and designers need to consider when designing an eco-display? What challenges do they face? In this series, we focus on the essence of each eco-display through practical examples. This time: the Mangrove.
Burgers' Mangrove is entirely inspired by our protected nature reserve in Belize, which now covers more than 400 square kilometres and includes mangroves, coral reefs, tropical dry forest and tropical rainforest. We have successfully supported this nature conservation project for over 30 years in cooperation with the Swiss butterfly park Papiliorama. In the Mangrove, visitors get to know the beautiful, fragile nature areas of mangroves and tropical dry forests. The Mangrove is a true ambassador for our conservation project in Central America!
The temperature in the Mangrove varies between 24 and 28 degrees Celsius. So, we need to heat as well as cool throughout the year. For this purpose, we use an Underground Thermal Energy Storage (UTES) system, which allows us to save a lot of energy by storing excess heat underground in the summer so that it can be pumped up again in the winter. We do the same with cold in the winter, which we can use to cool the eco-display in the summer. There is no artificial light, except in the mangrove jellyfish pool, because in the darker winter months, the jellyfish would otherwise have problems with their symbiotic single-celled algae. In nature, the humidity in mangrove areas is high due to the proximity of the sea, the moist mud and the high ambient temperature. By heating Burgers' Mangrove, large water features and a misting machine, we have recreated the humid-warm environment in our mangrove. At night, the Mangrove is irrigated using the built-in irrigation system in the dome roof, sparing the mudflat with the fiddler crabs and the jellyfish pool so as not to disturb the salinity too much.
The Mangrove has a saltwater and a freshwater section. The manatees swim in the freshwater pool, while the muddy area with the fiddler crabs and the mangrove jellyfish pool are saltwater. Birds and countless colourful butterflies populate the airspace. One of the Mangrove challenges is finding the balance between birds and butterflies; we cannot allow the birds to catch too many butterflies. So, we carefully selected the bird species suitable for this eco-display. Of course, the chosen bird species should not eat fish or crab either, so the selection is quite limited. Selecting freshwater fish to maintain balance is also a challenge. Three species of predatory fish—the longnose garpike, the live-bearing pike topminnow (Belonesox belizanus) and the bay snook (Petenia splendida), a species of cichlid—have been introduced to catch the necessary small fish so that the cichlid species, in particular, do not increase in numbers too much.
Like in the other eco-displays, plants form the foundation of the Mangrove. We have the largest collection of mangrove plants in Europe. Mangrove plants must withstand extreme, hostile conditions to survive—alternating salt and fresh water under a burning sun. Many mangrove plants have developed techniques to secrete salt and often have sturdy, leathery leaves to protect them from the harsh sun. Of the hundreds of thousands of plant species in the world, only a few dozen are found in mangrove areas because of the extreme conditions.
The manatees and butterflies have become real crowd-pleasers, but the fiddler crabs are also particularly appreciated by visitors for their often active and unusual behaviour. We imitate the ebb and flow of the tide in their enclosure, and the crabs are most active at low tide. Early afternoon visitors have the best chance of seeing beckoning crabs, although the occurrence of this behaviour also depends somewhat on the season. The butterflies live mainly in the tropical dry forest, where they find nectar plants and where the various host plants are also located. Each butterfly species usually has its favourite host plants where they deposit their eggs, and their caterpillars feed on leaves.
This drawing has been made for the Mangrove
To design the Mangrove, our zoo designer travelled to our conservation project in Belize, where he took many pictures and had a good look around. He paid particular attention to the use of colour and construction in Belize. When you first enter the Mangrove as a visitor, you do not see any education boards, although they are certainly there. We deliberately placed them out of the sightline to keep the experience authentic. The bird and reptile acclimation enclosures are cleverly concealed in the vegetation or behind a birdhouse. The Belizean flag flies in front of the Mangrove's main entrance as you pass through a small square decorated in a Caribbean atmosphere.
When you enter the ranger station, a video presentation starts in which park ranger Silos invites you to join him on an expedition through the Mangrove. Once in the eco-display, all kinds of landscape elements stand out, such as the weathered-looking bridge (which is, in fact, brand new but has been made to look old), the wooden walkway that winds through the Mangrove, the veranda with a view of the mudflat with crabs, and the special pupa theatre for the butterfly pupas. A metre-long window gives you a wonderful underwater view of the manatee habitat. And when leaving the Mangrove, visitors discover all kinds of information about our conservation project in Belize, plus the opportunity to use our money-spinner to make a small donation that goes directly to the project.
The Mangrove is particularly successful in making our conservation project in Belize more tangible by letting people experience how special the animals and nature in the area are. Belize is far away and therefore rather abstract for many visitors. An eco-display such as the Mangrove is ideally suited to immerse people in another world and let them experience it with all their senses. The Mangrove contributes directly to awareness and nature conservation on location in Belize!
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