The Future of Zoos

Image One: an immersive exhibit designed by Jon Coe for the Giant Pandas in Adelaide Zoo

The architectural typology of urban zoological gardens mustbe radically altered in order to house wild animals humanely, prioritising the psychological and physiological needs of its’ residents. Currently, there is a tension between what the public wants, what the animals need and how the animals are actually managed. Immersive design, founded by landscape architect Jon Coe in the 1970s (Jon Coe Design), allows the general public to view ‘wild’ animals in a close proximity. The animals are showcased in an exhibit inspired by their native habitat; however, little consideration is taken for their basic needs, therefore the enclosures resemble decorated cages rather than an environment for the animals to thrive.



Zoological parks of the future must have a central focus on the animals’ wellbeing, both physically and mentally, instead of showcasing animals as biotic artefacts. This can be achieved by reshaping the general publics’ preconceived expectation of what a zoo is. By altering this idea, zoological gardens will have the capacity to prioritise their residents’ wellbeing. This would be most effective by fully replicating the inhabitants’ native environment at a smaller scale, allowing visitors into the peripheral of the animals’ space rather than forcing the creatures to adapt to a man-made environment.


Through understanding what factors weigh against captivity, such as a large home range size, metropolitan zoos would be able to discern what animals are not suited to confinement. Therefore, these animals will be phased out and be replaced with interesting alternatives. These alternate animals will be able to have their psychological and physiological needs met while in captivity, allowing for the general public to view and learn about exotic animals. This is particularly important in the matter of conservation, as zoos are the most accessible way for the general public to become educated about these issues.


Image Two: The Indian Rhinoceros in their native habitat of the Terai–Duar Savannah and Grasslands
Image Three: the rhinoceros exhibit at Denver Zoo








Indian Rhinoceroses are a popular exhibit in zoological gardens throughout the world. Combined with the general publics’ fascination of foreign animals, there is a focus on keeping these creatures in captivity due to their Vulnerable conservation status (Ellis, 2019). However, urban zoos are too small to ethically display the animals, providing 30m2 per rhinoceros (Fouraker, 1996). Wild rhinoceroses roam over twenty square kilometres (Watson, 2007), confirming that metropolitan zoos are unable to humanely house the megafauna. Education and conservation focus for these creatures must be placed on their native habitat, helping preserve the environment from which the rhinoceroses are found.


Image Four: Radiated Tortoises and their enclosure found in Perth Zoo

In comparison, Radiated Tortoises are reptiles with a small home range (Castellon, 2018), thus it is more plausible that an urban zoo would be able to fully cater to the animals’ needs compared to the vast space that rhinoceroses require. The creatures are categorised as Critically Endangered (Leuteritz, 2008), and consequently demand that visitors become advocates for their conservation. Critics may argue that the general public will not visit their local zoo to see tortoises, highlighting the need for the publics’ expectations to be redefined.



Although it could be argued that zoos would simply be shifting the burden of captivity onto smaller, less ethically provocative creatures, and that the tortoises would definitely prefer freedom to captivity, a zoo is unequivocally more equipped to provide carefully designed spaces that meet that meet the reptiles’ physiological and psychological needs than a rhinoceros’.


Currently, the recommended space per tortoise is two metres squared (Ogle, 2012). Various enrichment devices such as heat lamps, ponds and hiding places are recommended to enable the animals to exhibit natural behaviours in an unnatural environment. Future enclosure designs will further replicate the reptiles’ native habitat of Madagascar, with a variety of edible grasses, fruits and succulent plants being provided throughout their enclosure. As the Radiated Tortoise spends the majority of its day foraging for food (Team), the exhibit would expand to enable this behaviour.


Image Five: enrichment activities such as heat lamps are scattered throughout the tortoises enclosure at Perth Zoo. Food is left in piles for the reptiles to feed on.
Image Six: in zoos of the future, succulent cacti and other edible vegetation will be planted in the tortoises enclosure











This method of zoological architecture enables activation of the enclosure, as the tortoises would have to search for nutrition, similar to their life in the wild. This would encourage the public to engage with the exhibit and learn how to rescue the animals from extinction. By prioritising the creatures’ psychological and physiological health, zoological gardens would have increased interest from their visitors.


Through comparing the climate of individual urban zoos to the animals’ native habitat, directors of zoological parks will be able to discern between animals unable to be held in captivity and animals who would thrive. In climates drastically different from the creatures’ indigenous environment, zoos are unable to sustainably replicate the animals’ territory leading to the animals being housed inhumanely. Zoos of the future will therefore prioritise housing creatures that are able to withstand the weather conditions faced at the individual metropolitan zoo, most animals being native to that specific climactic zone.


Image Seven: the Japanese Macaque in their native habitat of Jigokudani Nagano
Image Eight: a macaque in captivity, located at Lincoln Park Zoo









When analysing the native habitat of the Japanese Macaque, the Snow Monkey, it is understood that the animal is not biologically equipped to handle warmer temperatures found in hotter climates. Found in snow covered areas in northern Japan (Snow Japan), the environmental conditions found in warmer locations such as Australia create inhumane living conditions for the animals. The primates are accustomed to an average temperature of ten degrees Celsius (Aomori), and to place the creatures in an urban zoo where this is not the norm is unethical. In response to undesirable conditions in captivity, the macaques’ display adverse behaviours such as pacing and hair-pulling (Poirier, 2017).


Image Nine: a koala sitting in a eucalyptus tree at Perth Zoo

In comparison, animals native to Australia are naturally equipped to handle the extreme heat thatoccurs in the warmer months. This innate characteristic automatically makes these animals more suited to captivity in Australia, provided that their psychological and physiological needs are able to be met. Opponents may argue that the general public would not want to view an animal that is native to the area, furthering reinforcing the need for the publics’ expectations to be altered.


Koalas are a marsupial found in Australia and the species has evolved over time to comfortably withstand the severe temperatures found throughout the continent, such as their coat becoming shorter the hotter the temperature becomes (Lee, 1988). In comparison to the Japanese Macaque, koalas are unequivocally more equipped to be in an Australian zoological garden. This cannot be extrapolated for all native Australian animals, as metropolitan zoological parks of the future must consider the size of the animals’ native environment along with the creatures’ local climate.


Currently, the design of koala enclosures requires a minimum of 30m2, and various enrichment devices such as providing tree forks for feeding to prevent stereotypies from emerging (Jackson). Future exhibit designs will further imitate the marsupials’ native environment, expanding the enclosure to a minimum of 1km2 (Queensland Government, 2021), the size of a wild koala’s home range. A variety of edible eucalyptus trees at various heights will be employed, all with enough branches and supports to allow for koalas to use them. These trees would replace the surplus browse currently recommended for koala exhibits, where branches of eucalyptus are placed in the same location every day for the animals’ meals (Jackson).


Image Ten: branches of eucalyptus trees are placed inside the koalas exhibit
Image Eleven: in zoos of the future, a surplus of edible trees will be placed in the koalas enclosure, replicating their native environment









Koalas feed for a minimum of four hours a day (Jackson), and by providing more trees the animals are able to search for nutrition much like their life in the wild. This innovative method of zoological design encourages activation of the space, thereby allowing the zoo’s visitors to interact and learn from the exhibit. By prioritising the animals’ welfare, zoological exhibits will have increased engagement from the general public.


Ultimately, the public’s preconceived notion of what a zoo is must be altered. Urban zoological parks of the future must have a central focus of the creatures’ wellbeing, physically and mentally. This emphasis will not only result in a more humane treatment of animals, but also create exciting displays for the general public.


Current zoos provide the public with the illusion of proximity to wild animals, however, due to this proximity, the animals are no longer wild, instead indifferent to the presence of humans. Zoos of the future must bring the public the reality of wild animals by keeping the animals wild. Through considering the animals’ indigenous environment, zoo directors will be able to replicate these conditions for the park’s residents. By enabling visitors to view truly wild animals from their enclosure’s periphery, the general public will become more engaged with the exhibits, enabling education about wildlife conservation to occur.







Image One: Martin, Kaylee. “Wang-Wang.” 2018.

Image Two: Dupuis-Désormeaux, Marc. “The Rhinoceros of Java.” 2005.

Image Three: Short Elliott Hendrickson Incorporated. “Designing Stormwater Solutions Fit for Elephants, Rhinos and Tapirs.” 2000.

Image Four: Chapman, Kathy. “Radiated Tortoises at Perth Zoo.” 2021.

Image Five: Chapman, Kathy. “Tortoises ‘Food’ Enrichment.” 2021.

Image Six: Turtle Survival Alliance. “With so much of Madagascar’s natural spiny desert forest cleared, Radiated Tortoises now feed heavily on the introduced prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp).” 2015.

Image Seven: Snow Japan. “Snow Monkeys.”

Image Eight: Souffle, Anthony. “A Japanese macaque eats bits of food while exploring its naturalistic habitat at the Lincoln Park Zoo.” 2015.

Image Nine: Chapman, Kathy. “Wanda the Koala.” 2021.

Image Ten: Chapman, Kathy. “Feeding Strategies for Koalas.” 2021.

Image Eleven: Wanderlust. “Koala-Wild.” 2020.




Aomori. “Climate in Aomori.” Accessed May 25, 2021.

Castellon, Traci D., Rothermel, Betsie B., and Bauder, Javan M. “Gopher Tortoise Burrow Use, Home Range, Seasonality, and Habitat Fidelity in Scrub and Mesic Flatwoods of Southern Florida.” Hepretologica 74 no.1 (2018): 81-21. Academic Search Complete.

Ellis, Suzanne. and Talukdar, Bakhtear. “Rhinoceros unicornis.” The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2019)

Fouraker, Marie. “Rhinoceros Husbandry: Resource Manual.” Published December 1996.

Jackson, Stephen, and Perry, Larry. “Koala Phascolarctos cinereus: Captive Husbandry Guidelines.” Accessed May 25, 2021.

Jon Coe Design, “Trends in Exhibition.” Accessed May 25, 2021.

Lee, Anthony K., and Martin, Roger. The Koala – A Natural History. Sydney, NSW: New South Wales University Press, 1988.

Leuteritz, Thomas and Rioux Paquette, Sebastien. “Madagascar Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Red List Workshop” The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2008) DOI:

Ogle, Michael and Castellano, Christina. “Husbandry Manual for Radiated (Astrochelys radiata) and Spider Tortoises (Pyxis arachnoides): Facilitating the Care and Reintroduction of Confiscated Tortoises.” Published March 2012.

Poirier, Colline, and Bateson Melissa. “Pacing stereotypies in laboratory rhesus macaques: Implications for animal welfare and the validity of neuroscientific findings.” Neuroscience & Behavioural Reviews 83 (2017): 508-515. DOI: /

Queensland Government. “Koala Facts.” Published February 7, 2021.

Snow Japan. “The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani, Yamanouchi, Nagano.” Accessed May 25, 2021.

Team, Ben. “Tortoise Habitat Plans.” Accessed May 25, 2021.

Watson, Paul. “In the mood for love, Sumatran rhino style; The future of his species may ride on the ability of one pampered beast to get his groove on.” Toronto Star (2007). ProQuest.