The Association of Zoos & Aquariums Recognizes 2014’s Most Innovative Exhibits

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Sea Lion Cove, Fresno

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums is dedicated to global conservation and education. This unique organization has been a source of ongoing support for global animal sanctuaries and facilities since it was established in 1924. Last year alone, they pledged over $160 million to thousands of zoos and aquariums around the globe. The AZA is dedicated to protecting the planet’s endangered species, educating the public about animal health, science, and the environment, and providing unique opportunities for families to connect with nature. It’s also the top membership organization that brings together professionals that work at zoos and aquariums, sharing best practices and helping to push the envelope in terms of exhibit development and design.

Recently, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums held its annual Honors and Awards event. This special event recognizes some of the world’s top animal-focused venues for their ongoing efforts to protect and preserve the health and wellbeing of animals and marine life. This year’s AZA Honors and Awards recipients were announced in Orlando on September 16th. Twenty aquariums and zoos received special recognition for their exceptional work. Some were honored for their commitment to conservation and education, while others received awards for creative marketing efforts.

Sea Lion Cove

Each year, a few winners are recognized at the AZA Honors and Awards event for their compelling exhibit designs. The Fresno Chaffee Zoo won top honors for their Sea Lion Cove installation this year. The unique installation provides zoo visitors with a one-of-a-kind glimpse into marine life on the California coastline. Visitors to Sea Lion Cove are transported to a small coastal community within the zoo, complete with calming salt air and the relaxing sound of crashing waves. The design engages multiple senses, including sound and smell, to create a deeply compelling experience. The exhibit is home to sea lions, harbor seals, and brown pelicans. Viewers can choose to observe these animals from above or follow a winding path to an underground tank to see playful seals and sea lions swimming below the surface. Sea Lion Cove provides an immersive, realistically designed California coastal experience for Fresno Chafee Zoo visitors.

The Goat Bridge at KidsZooU

The Philadelphia Zoo’s KidsZooU: Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo & Faris Family Education Center also won an award for best exhibit from the AZA this year. The education complex aims to teach the zoo’s youngest visitors about animals, conservation, and the environment with its immersive, realistic habitats and exhibits. KidZooU, which was completed in 2013, integrates various opportunities for children to learn through purposeful play. One of the most notable examples of this is a goat habitat which features two side-by-side towers. The unique exhibit gives children a chance to climb alongside the goats in the outdoor area, learning about the animals in a fun, interactive way.

Another exhibit that received special recognition at this year’s AZA Honors and Awards event was Encounter Africa at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The Encounter Africa exhibit is reminiscent of a safari adventure, and viewers are placed in the heart of the action. Encounter Africa is on trend for creating environments that are evocative of animals’ natural habitats. Zoo guests have the opportunity to get up close and personal with African elephants, lions, meerkats, and black rhinoceros in realistic replicas of their natural habitats. The area also features realistic elephant sculptures and native plants, leaving guests feeling as though they’ve been transported to the arid Serengeti.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ annual awards event showcases some of the best examples of exhibit design among animal conservation facilities. Sea Lion Cove, KidZooU, and Encounter Africa provide realistic, unique experiences for guests, allowing them to learn and interact with different animal species in immersive habitats. From a design perspective, these stand out for two reasons. The first is that the overall design and development of the exhibits uses theming to create a more engaging experience than a standard zoo enclosure. There is also an experiential element that allows guests to dive more deeply into the animal’s worlds, forming more profound connections and learning about their biology, habitats, and lifeways.

Image sources:; Portico Group; Youtube

One response to “The Association of Zoos & Aquariums Recognizes 2014’s Most Innovative Exhibits”

  1. Macy Pate says:

    This is a great initiative to teach children something other than mainstream academics, something that actually might fascinate them and evoke their interest. When a visit to a place like this might not be favorable, it is necessary to keep that interest awake. With technology that is possible too, in the form of Interactive Floor and Interactive Wall, Gesture Recognition technology can create similar content for indoor areas like this

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