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The goal of the modern zoo is to create an exhibit which will promote the well-being of animals, encourage natural animal behaviour and allow visitors to develop appreciation and awareness for that particular environment.

What is a habitat?

The natural environment where an animal or plant naturally lives.

What is habitat simulation?

To represent the animal's natural environment, plant species, form, structure, colours and textures are considered. The surrounding landscape allows the visitor to experience a similar habitat to that of the animal they are viewing.

How do we simulate a habitat?


Plants are used to highlight the link between animals and their habitat. Zoo Horticulturists look closely at the way an animal interacts with the plants in its surroundings. Where possible plants from an animal’s natural habitat are used in exhibits and surrounding gardens. Sometimes this is difficult so alternative plant species with similar characteristics are used.

Plant diversity and structural diversity are important. This means providing a variety of suitable plant species as well as vegetation layers that includes the ground, middle and canopy layers. An excellent example of habitat simulation can be seen in the Platypus Pools Exhibit. Here a diverse range of animals co-exist.

Plant selection can be challenging as most animals like to graze or browse on plants in the exhibit. Plants used within and around the gorilla exhibit are primarily edible plants.

How do we protect the plants from the animals?

  • Thorny or unpleasant tasting plants can deter animals
  • Rocks and logs can also act as barriers between animals and plants
  • Various fencing styles can be used to establish pockets of plants within exhibit areas

Emma Schaefer, Manager, Environment and Sustainability