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Highlands on the Horizon

Though half a world away, the mountainous areas of Southern and Eastern Asia share a similar climate and landscape with Northeast Ohio. Deciduous forests, hilly backdrops and variable temperatures define the region. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is home to several species native to such terrain: perennial visitor favorites red panda and snow leopard, and the regal Amur leopard.

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Asian Highlands construction photo from late April 2018

Soon, these species will have a new home that celebrates the culture of their native areas and outlines the threats facing them in the wild. Asian Highlands, a new habitat within Wilderness Trek, will open this summer.

Cleveland Metroparks broke ground on the project in August 2017, and construction has continued through the winter and spring months, weather permitting.

Asian Highlands is along the outer pathway of Wilderness Trek, a hilly area that already highlights forest-dwelling species such as bears, wolves and tigers. It will be adjacent to Rosebrough Tiger Passage, which features similar habitat design to plans for Asian Highlands.

Asian Highlands will maximize vertical space and climbing opportunities to showcase the species’ agility and preference for being up high. Red panda spend most of their lives in trees. Snow leopards traverse landscape edges. Amur leopards are often seen resting in places with high vantage points.

Overhead tunnels will connect four large outdoor yards for the two leopard species, allowing maximum choice for the animals and an intriguing view for guests. The cats will have four times the size of their current space, and the yards will be fully meshed, allowing outdoor access around the clock.

Climbing poles and tree “nests” that mimic natural resting places will be included for red panda. Rocky outcrops will provide high vantage points for the red pandas and cats.

All of the species are cold-hardy, meaning they can remain outdoors throughout Ohio winters. In the warmer months, the habitat’s cooling caves and slabs will bring relief during the hottest summer temperatures.

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View of one of the leopard yards under construction at Asian Highlands - these yards feature climbing structures to provide complex enviornments

“We’re going to build on the design concepts that we’ve used in African Elephant Crossing and Rosebrough Tiger Passage. We’re going to do what’s best for the animals by providing some complex environments,” Dr. Christopher Kuhar, Zoo Executive Director, said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “We feel the most fundamental design concept is to let the animals do what the animals do because there is no better experience for our guests than to see those animals being the amazing animals that they are.”

The guest experience will be dramatically different from the current Primate, Cat & Aquatics space. Overhead tunnels will flank the guest area and full-length glass panels will allow unobstructed views of the animals, much like Rosebrough Tiger Passage.

Decorative lanterns, buttresses and entryways will evoke the spirit of China. Signage will detail the Zoo’s longstanding relationship with the Snow Leopard Trust, an independent nonprofit dedicated to the study and protection of snow leopard in the wild. A wider, more organic pathway will improve wayfinding and views of animals.

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Takin are coming to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for the first time

The community will also be introduced to a species native to China and new to Cleveland: Sichuan takin. This goat-antelope animal can be found in the eastern Himalayas and is comfortable on rocky ridges and bamboo forests.

The investment in such capital improvements allows the Zoo to continue with its strategic mission to bring conservation and animal care to the forefront of every habitat and program. Dr. Kuhar is encouraged that this approach, best seen thus far in Rosebrough Tiger Passage, is being embraced by donors, guests and the community at large.

“When you see the public respond to what we’ve done and you realize it does work, it’s really rewarding,” said Dr. Kuhar. “We know from visitor studies and surveys that people are responding to the changes we are making, starting with Rosebrough Tiger Passage. Making that connection to animal care here and animals in the wild is what keeps us going.”

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