Zoo Adaptations for the Future

June 5, 2014 • Drew Jordan, RLA


The year is 2122. Our planet’s biodiversity had reached critically low levels within the last 30 years thanks to rampant overexploitation of resources. Resources used to feed, house, and entertain our non-sustainable population growth and consumption. Resources that had dwindled enough to threaten our survival as a species…

It took this realization for humans to finally understand the devastating impact they have had on their environment. According to some estimates, within the next 100 years, 30 to 50 percent of the world’s animals and plants could be on the path to extinction. Tigers, polar bears, walruses, sea turtles, blue whales, cheetahs, and countless other endangered species will have perished in the wild.

Biodiversity’s future appears bleak, but there is hope.

Within the next century, the tapestry of living things on this earth will be vastly different. Zoos will have adopted a much different role than they had a century before and stand to be our best hope to save our natural world. Biodiversity will evolve and, likewise, so will zoos.

Growing knowledge about the physical and emotional needs of captive animals will lead to the creation of larger and more complex environments. These environments will take space and budgets that many smaller zoos can’t support. This will lead to fewer, large regional zoos with exotic megafauna and more, smaller local zoos that will choose to focus on native wildlife. With our greater understanding and insistence on animal welfare, animal rights groups and real zoological institutions will join forces and put an end to roadside menageries and animals being used in circuses. In this new age of biological awareness, zoos will evolve to become not just our greatest connection to the natural world but our best chance to create a sustainable future.


Larger, regional zoos will take the lead in global conservation.

Regional zoos will be similar to modern-day zoos but will have a greater concentration on captive breeding and genetic research. They will likely have larger, breeding groups of less species and will feature animals adapted to their local climate. No more desert species in cold, northern climates or vice-versa. With the decrease in quantity of large charismatic megafauna species, we might also see an increase in smaller animals in zoos. They require less space, are less expensive to maintain and with creative exhibitory can be just as interesting as their larger counterparts. Interpretive technology of the future will allow these small creatures to capture the hearts and minds of guests. Regional zoos will have a renewed focus on restoring our planets biodiversity and imparting global awareness.

Smaller local zoos will take the lead in local conservation. It will be the role of these local zoos to instill an ethic of sustainability and serve as a conduit to the natural world around us. Like larger institutions, smaller zoos will play a pivotal role in the re-introduction of local, native species and protection of their habitats. The exhibits will focus on teaching ecoliteracy – or ecological literacy – and highlight local flora and fauna. Small zoos will foster an understanding, appreciation, and love for wildlife that we will carry with us for a lifetime.

Zoos of the future will play a vital role in preserving our world’s genetic information. With greater global cooperation and advances in the ability to reintroduce captive animals back into the wild, both large and small zoos will be pioneers in healing the biological scars we have inflicted on our world. When the technology to bring back extinct species becomes reality (aka Jurassic Park) diverse genetic information will be a priority. Collecting, preserving, and managing this genetic information will be essential to re-establishing sustainable species populations. As this technology advances, bringing back prehistoric life forms to display in zoos will likely become a reality. Ethical issues aside, it might be the hope of bringing back mammoths and saber tooth cats that will spur funding for the advancement of this “resurrection” technology. Future zoos can provide the carefully managed environments which will be necessary to help these species rise from the ashes.

We will likely have a growing reliance and fascination with technology, and zoos will play a vital role defending against nature deficit disorder. Technology will, however, change the way guests experience zoos. While new technologies will allow innovative barrier designs, the biggest impact technology will have is on guest interpretation. I believe one of the next major trends in exhibit design will be Multi-Disciplinary Interpretation (which I will cover in a later blog). Larger and more complex exhibits of the future will make it more difficult for guests to experience the animals the way they do today. Remote sensing/video technology combined with handheld (or hands-free) devices that will allow guests to locate, view, and learn about the animals in new and exciting ways.

Experiencing animals within their habitats or in the wild via sense-enabled simulates, invisible barriers, bringing back extinct species… the next century brings uncertainty about the natural world and what role zoos will play, but one thing is for certain – both will adapt. Zoos will play a pivotal role in developing the type of ethic and concern for global awareness that will allow our species and others to sustain.

WDM Architects specialize in Zoological Design and are passionate about sustainability as well as conservation efforts. To learn more about WDM Architects and their passions click here.