Dedicated to conservation, education, and recreation, the Buffalo Zoo is one of the most popular attractions in Western New York. The zoo exhibits a remarkably diverse collection of animals within its compact 23.5-acre footprint. Established in 1875, it is one of the oldest zoos in the country. Three of its buildings are listed as contributing structures in Delaware Park’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. In the past, the Buffalo Zoo was ranked as one of the best in the country, attracting well over 600,000 visitors a year. During the latter half of the twentieth century, however, only modest capital investments were made in exhibits and facilities. While many zoos across the country experienced increased public support and visitation, the lack of substantial investment in the Buffalo Zoo led to a marked decline in attendance. More importantly, many of the Zoo’s exhibits no longer met the professional standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), threatening the zoo’s status as an accredited institution.
In 2001, the Zoological Society of Buffalo committed to rebuilding the aging urban facility to create a zoo featuring naturalistic exhibits and exciting opportunities for conservation education. The society hired renowned zoo architect Patrick Janikowski and interpretive planners from Main Street Design to develop a new master plan for the zoo. Over a 15 year period, the institution is being transformed and revitalized with major new exhibits and visitor amenities. The zoo is to remain within its existing footprint, but better use of space and careful landscaping will make the new zoo feel far more varied and expansive. Well-organized pathways and a unifying design approach will create a more cohesive, manageable visit.
The core experience of the new Buffalo Zoo is a series of realistic, immersive animal enclosures that take visitors on a journey around the world. Four primary exhibit zones, accessed off a central circulation path, include an Asian river, an African savannah, a South American rainforest and North American tundra. A new entrance will be built off of the parking lot near recently constructed habitats for sea lions and river otters. At the far end of the zoo, gorillas, lions, tigers, and birds of prey will inhabit refurbished enclosures in front of the Main Animal Building while the outer ring of exhibits provide homes for threatened and endangered species from around the world.
The major organizing theme of the new zoo is “WATER.” This theme was chosen because of water’s historic importance to the City of Buffalo. Nestled between two Great Lakes and at the foot of the Erie Canal, Buffalo is world-renowned for the use of water for transportation, hydroelectric power, and recreation. Moreover, the Earth is a watery planet. Animals must contend with every scenario possible: being submerged in rapidly moving water (as in the Asian River zone); alternating between no water and drenching rains (in an African savannah); existing in a perpetually moist environment (such as a rainforest); or living in surroundings that are frozen most of the time (like the Arctic tundra). The attached Master Plan diagram outlines the new areas to be developed over a 15 year period.
Summary of Planned Exhibits and Visitor Facilities
New Entry Complex
The Zoo’s existing brick barn adjacent to the parking lot will be completely renovated to become the New Entry Complex. It will serve as a gathering space for visitors as they embark on their Zoo adventure. A series of sculptural elements, including a large fountain within a giant globe and an interactive water “map” of the Great Lakes, will introduce the zoo’s organizing theme in a fun, engaging manner. Interpretive graphics will relate Buffalo’s water story (i.e. Niagara Falls and hydroelectric power, the Erie Canal and transportation) while touching on global water usage. The new gift shop and cafe will be accessible to visitors entering and exiting the zoo, as well as recreational users of Delaware Park. The Entry Complex will offer a wide range of visitor amenities: ticketing, membership, zoo information, restrooms, pay phones, vending machines, lost and found and an automatic teller machine.
Sea Lion Cove COMPLETED
will be the first exhibit encountered from the Entry Complex. These charismatic marine mammals serve as ambassadors to the zoo’s “water” theme. Exciting underwater viewing opportunities are available in the 160,000 gallon salt water pool while tiered seating incorporated into the habitat accommodates daily feeding demonstrations.
Otter Creek COMPLETED
exhibit features a waterfall, stream and shallow pool allowing children to be eye-to-eye with the river otters. Interpretive programming focuses on the reintroduction of this beloved native species into Western New York.
The Asian River Zone
will link our elephant exhibit to a new restaurant plaza offering casual dining and direct viewing into the adjacent animal enclosures. The zoo’s historic 1912 Elephant House was recently renovated to double the amount of indoor holding.
The African Watering Hole
will be an immersive naturalistic enclosure simulating an open savannah. The habitat is organized around a central watering hole featuring zebras, addax, roan antelope, gemsbok, wildebeest and several species of savannah birds. Water levels will be controlled to rise and fall seasonally, and the banks of the watering hole will incorporate hoof prints that become visible as the water recedes. Blinds and overlooks along the visitor path provide more intimate closer-focus viewing opportunities. A small passenger train will traverse the grasslands habitat to provide a unique way to experience the animals. The existing giraffe house will be refurbished and embellished (e.g., rockwork and planting “hiding” the facade). It will serve as off-season viewing for the giraffes and as a year-round facility for smaller African birds. The adjacent Vet Hospital has recently been renovated and expanded to accommodate the growing animal collection.
M&T Bank Rainforest Falls COMPLETED
provides the zoo with a signature four-season attraction. The exhibit was inspired by Venezuela’s Canaima National Park, home to Angel Falls – the tallest waterfall in the world. Upon entering the complex, visitors see two thatched huts. The larger of the huts is a Visitor Center with interpretive graphics and a short multimedia presentation about rainforest flora and fauna. After viewing the orientation program, visitors pass into the two-story atrium of the rainforest itself. The back wall of the atrium resembles a flat-topped mountain (known as a tepui) with layers of rockwork, lush vegetation, and a dramatic waterfall cascading 25 feet to the ground. Following the curved pathway, visitors are transported into another world. They first encounter an ocelot hiding in the bushes. Next, they view a large wetland fed by the waterfall with islands of towering trees and open areas for basking in the sun. The wetland exhibit contains capybara, dwarf caiman and dozens of colorful birds. To the left, giant anteaters may be seen digging for insects or lounging in their pool. At this point, visitors can pass behind the rushing waterfall and enter a cave inhabited by vampire bats, piranha and anaconda snakes. The faint of heart can bypass the cave and take a bridge across the wetlands in front of the waterfall. Visitors then see squirrel monkeys, capuchins, and howler monkeys running through the treetops. Next, they see toucans, tamandua, two-toed sloths, and white faced saki monkeys. At the end of their journey, visitors can climb a set of stairs (or take a lift) to a balcony offering breathtaking views of the two-story waterfall and the rich variety of wildlife they have encountered along the way.
The area adjacent to the Main Animal Building is a multi-use zone offering food service, seating, picnic facilities, shade structures, playground and interactive dinosaur dig. Four large animal enclosures fronting the courtyard will feature popular “signature” species including a new Outdoor Gorilla habitat and a Bird of Prey exhibit. On the other side of the Main Building, a series of mixed-species enclosures recreates six biomes from around the world: rocky cliff, temperate forest, grassy plains, dry scrub, Southwestern desert, and rainforest. At the center is EcoStation, a mock field research station with hands-on interactives, propped research equipment, and interpretive information. Topics include the illegal pet trade, the impact of human development on animal habitats, and rainforest destruction. The overall goal of Vanishing Animals is to increase public sensitivity to endangered wildlife and their habitats.
The Delta Sonic Heritage Farm COMPLETED
features a historic barn from the mid 1800’s with heritage breeds of domestic animals. The exhibit includes multiple children’s play areas, interactive graphics and animal contact opportunities to educate visitors about the importance of water to farming and native wildlife. Visitors access the area by traversing a small bridge that crosses over a mid-1800’s historic replica of an Erie Canal lock and canalway.
The Arctic Edge will be a dramatic new exhibit
focusing on frozen water (snow). A series of rocky outcroppings will serve as a backdrop to two large polar bear habitats with underwater viewing of the salt-water pools providing an up-close look at the bears’ playful antics. The interior pathway of the Arctic Edge exhibit will bring visitors past bald eagle, arctic wolf, and Canadian lynx, culminating in the Arctic Conservation Center.
Interpretation throughout the zoo will celebrate the vast array of species and emphasizes their – and our – interdependence, from the tiniest insect to the biggest mammal. Together, the new exhibits at the Buffalo Zoo will enhance appreciation for animals, their environments, and their behaviors. Visitors will go home amazed at the zoo’s variety of experiences: animal viewing, interpretive exhibits, hands-on activities, play opportunities, and live demonstrations (not to mention new amenities like cafes and snack stands, gift stores, etc.). And, they’ll remember that all living plants, animals, and human cultures share the same world of water.