Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

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The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado is an international tourist destination. This privately owned zoo is the highest zoo in the world with a wide variety of animals in unique and picturesque exhibits. It has an elevation of 6800 feet rising to a grand total of 8136 feet when you make your way up to the Shrine of the Sun, dedicated to Will Rogers. Part of the zoo’s success is the gorgeous setting, with its views of the plains and the Broadmoor Hotel and Resort, which can be seen in detail while riding the Mountaineer Sky Ride. In May of this year, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was named one of the top ten zoos in the United States, along with the world famous St. Louis Zoo and San Diego Zoo, by Over the course of the last several years, the zoo has renovated many of their exhibits, like the Mexican Wolf exhibit, the Reptile House and the exhibit displaying the Siberian Tiger. Some of these renovations seem to be for the benefit of the animals and some seem to be more about show rather than the comfort and well-being of the showcased animal. In 2011, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo announced that the zoo’s elephants and lions would be receiving a new exhibit. Considering the recently renovated exhibits, the new Encounter Africa exhibit at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo may be focused more on attracting additional tourist dollars rather than the comfort and welfare of the animals.

Zoos have been a fixture of civilized society for hundreds of years. When King Louis XIV of France built Versailles, he commissioned his architect to include a menagerie in the gardens. The Menagerie at Versailles was famous throughout the world and receiving an invitation to visit the Menagerie was a definite sign of the King’s royal favor. Sadly, the French Revolution came and the exotic animals housed at the Menagerie of Versailles were either killed or removed to the Jardin de Plantes at the heart of Paris, France. Zoos are monstrously expensive to maintain and the people of Revolutionary Paris could not justify feeding animals that who had no practical purpose when so many were starving ( Today, the Menagerie at the Jardin De Plantes is one of the oldest surviving zoos in the world and a huge tourist attraction for Paris.

Spenser Penrose built the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 1926. Mr. Penrose began his menagerie when he was given a gift of a bear in 1916. He added to his collection every year and, he initially housed the animals on his ranch and at the Broadmoor Hotel. In 1938, Mr. Penrose decided to entrust the growing menagerie to the people of Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region. This created a marvelous tourist attraction for the city as well as taking the onus of maintaining the zoo off Mr. Penrose’s hands. The people of the area and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society have done a marvelous job of maintaining and improving this award-winning zoo, which brings thousands of much-needed tourist dollars and gives many jobs to the Pikes Peak Region. It provides volunteer opportunities for adults and high school students alike, and hours of educational entertainment for all.

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a private zoo, funded by membership dues, grants, and donations. The zoo receives additional revenue by holding events, selling food at their Grizzly Grill, and the historic carousel that was originally an attraction at the 1932 Chicago World’s Fair. For just $2 per person, tourists can whiz around on the carousel at a breath-taking speed which leaves one no time to observe the carousel’s beautiful surroundings. The Mountaineer Sky Ride replaces the older train that used to bring tourists up to the zoo. This aptly named Sky Ride is a ski lift, which takes its riders up to a gorgeous picnic area. This amazing experience is only $4 per child, $5 per adult, and members receive $1 off the cost of the tickets unless, of course, they purchase a membership package that includes unlimited Sky Rides for an additional $30 on top of the membership fee. There are kiosks requesting donations to various conservation projects and plaques with information on where visitors can donate to fund zoo sponsored projects around the globe. The zoo generates more income with their Gift Shop, guided tours, train and pony rides, and other activities for members such as zoo classes for toddlers. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo also holds annual events such as Boo at the Zoo, and Electric Safari. These are fun events, which visitors can go to for an additional fee that is not always included in the membership package. While all of the different rides, events, and experiences are fantastic, they make it seem that the zoo is primarily concerned with chasing the almighty dollar.

A current donation plan specifically benefits the new, Encounter Africa exhibit. This amazing new feature will cost approximately 13.5 million dollars to build. People who are interested in donating to the effort to fund the building of this new exhibit can donate in many different ways. There is a spare change kiosk in the Grizzly Grill. Interested parties can donate online or over the phone. Earlier in 2012, the Zoo ran a rather innovative donation campaign for the benefit of the Encounter Africa exhibit’. For a limited time, and a $50 donation, people were able to receive a collectible elephant bank. What made this promotion interesting was that patrons were encouraged to color and decorate their commemorative “piggy” banks, and to email a photograph of their bank artwork to the Zoo. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is using those photographs, submitted by patrons, to create a unique art display in the new exhibit (Waterhole). Who would not want to have their own, or their children or grandchildren, personal touch on a zoo exhibit that will get international attention? As long as the animals are safe and happy, it should not be an issue. However, if, as with other exhibits, the animals become more objet d’art than happy animals, the Zoo will have demonstrated that money is more important.

Finances are always a concern for any operation, and even the Director of Animal Collection at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Tracy Thessing, admits that additional revenue is definitely something that the Zoo is looking for this renovation to increase, “… Another important role of the new exhibit is to allow our guests to fall in love with our animals so they will want to help ensure a future for their wild counterparts. So yes, we need guests to come to the Zoo & support us in order to fulfill our mission & vision.” According to the 2011-2012 Annual Report sent to Zoo members, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo had over 600 thousand visitors. This generated a huge amount of income for this non-profit, privately funded zoo. With the unveiling of the new, state of the art exhibits in Encounter Africa; the Zoo expects to see the number of tourists, and therefore, the number of new memberships, membership renewals, and visiting tourist dollars increase tremendously.

Zoo exhibits can help people learn about the effects of their daily lives have on the environment (Smith). The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is specifically devoted to the preservation of endangered species and the conservation of our natural resources. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo helps breed endangered harlequin frogs to put in their natural habitat to help reestablish the populations of their home in Panama. They also breed black-footed ferrets and Mexican Grey Wolves, which are released into the wild here in Colorado and other states. The Zoo also has exhibits dedicated to explaining the need to pack in supplies and pack out the trash when camping or hiking, as well as an area specifically devoted to showing children how to interact with domesticated animals such as goats, rabbits, and chickens. Teaching our children how their actions influence the ecology of the world around them is important to the Zoo. Children also have a chance to donate $0.25 of their entrance fee to the Zoo-sponsored animal of the child’s choice. Children are very fond of donating to penguins and tigers, according to the 2011-2012 Annual Report.

The Zoo sets a good example of conservation of its own resources as well. In an article titled, “Protecting the Planet: Where Does the Zoo’s Poo Go?” the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo explains the process of composting and the good that it does. The waste from the giraffes and elephants has gone from 96 yards of waste to 2 yards of waste, keeping nearly 680 tons of trash from rotting in a landfill every year (Carney). The Zoo even supports conservation of the vultures and educates visitors on the importance of keeping trash picked up and safely stored to help stop vultures from eating non-food items such as twist ties. While these are certainly admirable goals and teach important values, it does not seem best to maintain Zoo animals, like the vultures, in cages to demonstrate proper conservation of our planet.

Zoos are no longer solely for the purpose of housing and displaying rare and exotic animals but are also for the education of the public. Zoo exhibits can demonstrate how humanity influences the environment in a manner that is easy to understand and easy to absorb. Children are the most frequent visitors to the zoo and who would be better to pass the message of conservation? When the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois built the Bog of Habits exhibit, a study was conducted which demonstrated that zoo exhibits can pass the conservation message on to children (Smith). With this in mind, one wonders what conservation message the new elephant enclosure will have for visitors. It could be a giant pile of trash as big as the giant pile of dung that each elephant disposes of every day. Will it have a new coin drop soliciting additional donations to the Zoo? Will it have something regarding healthy eating habits and a kiosk for badgered parents to purchase lettuce for the children to feed to the massive and always hungry elephants? This has already proven successful with the world-renowned African Rift Valley exhibit. There are so many different ways that the Zoo could educate its visitors while generating additional income.

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has four African elephants. African elephants grow to an average of 13 feet tall and weigh around 15,400 pounds. They roam around their native habitats in herds containing 15 to 30 animals (Elephant). The zoo also houses a pride of beautiful African lions; however, the death of the beloved male lion, Elson, has left space available in their new home. The zoo also intends to adopt two new black rhinoceroses, a severely endangered species. These rhinoceroses will range in weight from around 1700-3000 pounds. Tracy Thessing, Director of Animal Collections for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, said, the staff at the zoo is “… fulfilling a critical role … by providing holding space for male rhinos so other facilities can continue to breed this critically endangered species.” The zoo is very excited to introduce the new arrivals to the public and eagerly anticipates the revenue that they will bring in. It is interesting to think that the Zoo may charge stud fees for the rhinoceros. It is an interesting and clever way to increase the income that the rhinoceroses will generate for the Zoo. The journey towards the completion of the Encounter Africa exhibit began in 2011 and is slated for completion during the summer of 2013. A lot of time is being allowed to enable the animals to properly acclimatize to their new homes. Elephants, especially, can be difficult to transfer. Elephants in the wild like to roam and explore their environments. Relocation can often be stressful and is sometimes unsuccessful (Pinter-Wollman). The original elephant barn and enclosure was built in the 1950s. Some of the elephants at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo have called the old barn home since the 1980s. They have not had any experience with exploring or moving around like their wild counterparts, therefore, Zoo officials and trainers are taking every precaution to help the animals. They want these changes to be stress-free as possible for all. Currently, the elephants are spending part of every day over in their new enclosure. As the elephant portion of the exhibit nears completion, they will spend more and more time there, relaxing in their new surroundings. According to Director Thessing, the new elephant exhibit is giving the elephants new opportunities to make their own choices and to behave more naturally. She states that the elephants have been responding well to their new environment and are not demonstrating any reluctance in their move to their new barn. This is good because rampaging elephants would certainly not endear the public to the Zoo, in fact, it would have the exact opposite effect and would likely cause legal trouble that the Zoo does not want.

The new exhibit will have to be very sturdy and cover extensive ground to accommodate these amazing animals. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is an elite zoo, one of the few privately funded zoos to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. While the old elephant barn has always been compliant with AZA standards for elephant care, the new barn will provide space for a bull elephant, which was not previously available. Elephants have matriarchal groups; therefore, special accommodations must be made for male elephants in captivity, as they are solitary by nature. The designers of the new exhibit visited other facilities that hold AZA accreditations and were able to add many features to the new area at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Thessing). Phase One of the Encounter Africa exhibit, the new elephant enclosure and barn, is complete. Phase Two includes construction of new outdoor play areas for the elephants as well as the meerkat exhibit. These will include fun in the forms of a waterfall and the resulting mud wallows. During Phase 3, the lion pride will be moved to Encounter Africa, which will pamper the lions with spacious dens and heated rocks for their lazing-about pleasure. However, there are plans for an overhead and overhanging viewing platform, designed to look like a crash-landed bush plane. Previously, Zoo visitors observed the elephants at quite a distance. With the addition of the overhead viewing platform, the animals in Encounter Africa will be right there, up close and personal. We do not know if the elephants will respond well to such close observation, like the grizzly bears, or will they try to hide in the trees on the hillside like the elusive wolves.

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is a truly beautiful and amazing zoo. The exhibits are tasteful and most of the animals seem comfortable. The Asian Highlands where the tiger and other Asian animals are housed are lovely with lots of trees, space, and ponds for their entertainment. The grizzly bears have an amazing space with a pond full of fish for them to chase and eat, however, the pond has a side of glass so that the bears can provide entertainment for the Zoos guests as the bears eat. The Reptile House was recently renovated and reopened in June of this year. It was used for years to house both birds and reptiles but had been empty for a few years. The new exhibits are beautiful but extremely artistic in nature. Instead of inhabiting the traditional terrariums, which mimicked the animals’ natural environment, the animals are now in tasteful vases full of glass beads and water or sand. The animals are no longer in something approaching their natural environment and instead are on display in glorified fish bowls. It is gorgeous but is that really what is best for the snakes and lizards housed in the Reptile House? They have food and shelter; however, slithering over glass beads does not seem like the most comfortable option for the animals. Tourists are easily able to fawn over the animals that have almost no place to hide. They take away the normal disturbing imagery traditionally surrounding the reptiles that unfortunately is enhanced by their natural surroundings and show how the animals can be used as art. This demonstrates that the comfort of the lizards was not the number one priority of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo but rather the solicitation of donations for the Zoos’ various projects.

Another exhibit where the Zoo appears to fail at maintaining the best health of the animals in its care, is the chicken house, near the hippopotamus’ outdoor pool. Chickens have been domesticated for thousands of years and are a staple food source for much of the world and proper handling of the animals is a well-established fact. The city of Colorado Springs understands this well as it is becoming a city where urban-homesteading is booming. It is important that the Zoo maintain an exhibit dedicated to educating the public on the proper care of chickens. However, the chickens at the Zoo have pecking order issues and it appears that no effort is made to reorganize the Zoos’ flock to correct the pecking order issue. While the exhibit should be able to maintain itself off the money charged for chicken feed that patrons are allowed to hand to the animals, the animals are bleeding which encourages further pecking, have visible sores and copious amounts of pulled feathers. Pecking orders amongst chickens are perfectly normal and are a trait of the species. However, some breeds do not play well with others and some chickens do not get along regardless of breed. Efforts must be made to maintain a happy flock dynamic in order to ensure proper health of the chickens. The Zoos’ proclaimed mission regarding the chickens is to showcase the most exotic chicken breeds, and that is exactly what the current exhibit does, it shows off the chickens with little apparent regard for their care.

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is an amazing feature attraction for Colorado Springs, bringing 600,000 visitors a year to the zoo along with their money. This feeds the local economy and adds to the city’s reputation as top tourist destination. However, recent changes to the Zoos exhibits demonstrate that the welfare of the animals the Zoo is dedicated to protecting and conserving are no longer the Zoo’s primary focus. Exhibits that display the animals as art, in vases, when the animal would obviously be much happier in something akin to their natural habitat, or in unhealthy flocks, are direct statements that the Zoo is more concerned with money than the comfort of the animals. The new Encounter Africa exhibit will have some awesome features for the animals it houses, such as heated rocks for the lounging comfort of the lions, and a badly needed splash pond for the elephants. The overhanging bush plane platform for viewing the animals will not allow them a place to hide. It will put them under a microscope for the tourists’ entertainment. The display, which is currently under construction, will likely follow a similar template of the other Zoo exhibits, offering food for the animals at an exorbitant cost, while illustrating the plight of the animals in nature to request that guests give donations for support of one of the Zoos’ many conservation efforts and maintenance.

Works Cited[edit | edit source]

  • "Annual Report 2011-2012." Mountain Zoological Society.Web. 17 Nov 2012.
  • "An Incredible Journey." Mountain Zoological Society.Web. 17 Nov 2012.
  • AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care." Association of Zoos and Aquariums.Web. 04 Nov 2012
  • "Cheyenne Mountain Zoo." Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society, n.d. Web. 30 Nov 2012.
  • "Conservation Action." Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society. Web. 17 Nov 2012.
  • “Elephant." (n.d.): Funk &Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.
  • J. Smith, et al. "Some Immediate And Longer-Term Effects Of A Zoo Exhibit." Journal Of Environmental systems 33.1 (2011): 19-28. GreenFILE.Web. 4 Nov. 2012
  • MoosMood. "Reviews — Zoos in EuroParis, la Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes." About Moos. Web. 17 Nov 2012.
  • Pinter-Wollman, Noa. "Spatial Behaviour Of TranslocatedAfrican Elephants (Loxodonta Africana) In A Novel Environment: Using Behaviour To Inform Conservation Actions." Behaviour 146.9 (2009): 1171-1192. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Nov. 2012.
  • "Something new at the zoo? You can bank on it!." Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society, 27 2012.Web. 17 Nov 2012.
  • "Support Encounter Africa." Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society. Web. 17 Nov 2012.
  • Thessing, Tracy. E-mail Interview. 30 Nov 2012.
  • “What's New at the Zoo: Where are the Elephants?” Waterhole. August/September (2011). Web. 04 Nov. 2012.