Studio

Wellington Zoo’s new chimpanzee habitat

The chimpanzee enclosure upgrade – opened this week – is the latest collaboration between Isthmus and the passionate team at Wellington Zoo.  This major project has improved the environment for the chimps, the largest troupe in New Zealand, and given visitors a more immersive viewing experience.

Within the enclosure, the chimp’s habitat has been enriched with new climbing features as well as significant planting to create a more forest-like setting for the troupe. In line with the Zoo’s recognised focus on sustainability (it’s the first certified Carbon Zero zoo in the world), materials were carefully sourced; hardwood timber poles recycled from Wellington’s old trolley bus network; chunky ropes reclaimed from Centre Port’s tug boats; and swings and hammocks made from recycled hoses donated by the Fire Service.

The addition of a dense layer of vegetation within the enclosure benefits the chimps’ wellbeing as they are now immersed in the habitat, not all in plain view of each other and the enclosing boundary wall. They call-out to each other more now, as they would in their natural habitat. Over 2,000 plants have enriched the enclosure, some protected by special hot-wires to give the plants a better chance of survival. Big trees were specified for the same reason. On top of the tallest timber poles several indestructible steel nests have been installed for the chimps to climb up to and gain prospect from. From up high they not only survey their enclosure, but also a large part of Wellington’s cityscape.

The troupe were kept inside their house for seven weeks during construction, during which time a large hole was cut into the lower end of the concrete enclosure and a prefabricated steel frame was installed, followed by 50mm thick glass panels. This glazed wall brings human visitors face-to-face with our closest living relatives.

Adjacent to this, on the site of the old Chimp House, a custom playspace has been installed that mirrors the chimp’s environment of poles, enclosures and nests.

Chimpanzees are five times stronger than an adult human and highly dextrous, capable of unscrewing machine-fixed M20 bolts, so a seriously robust materials palette with special details was specially developed.

The upgrade has enhanced the captive environment of these intelligent apes as well as bringing people closer to them physically and emotionally, further strengthening Wellington Zoo’s commitment to education and conservation.