It’s hard to picture a more exciting client relationship than the one we have with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. The Zoo has grown steadily for over 125 years, adding big, bold, record-setting exhibits, like the largest cat complex in America in 1977, the world’s largest indoor rainforest in 1992, and an indoor desert that remains, to date, the biggest in the world.
Environments for all species
This expansion makes them a great zoo, furthering its mission of conservation, stewardship, and education. It also makes them a great client for Edge Themed Environments. For the past decade, we’ve worked with the Zoo on exhibits that are all totally different from each other. But all find the balance between big, imaginative vision, and a commitment to getting animal habitats right.
“Edge is motivated by unique challenges and are willing and able to deliver on things that have never been done before. I don’t think there’s a project they’re not qualified for.”
Scott African Grasslands
At $73 million and 28 acres, the Suzanna and Walter Scott African Grasslands is the biggest project in the Zoo’s history. The exhibit spans the park and offers panoramic views of grasslands and wildlife like elephants, cheetahs, and giraffes. Edge was among many companies that responded to a competitive bid for the Grasslands. And we knew the stakes: If we got it right, it could mean future work with the ever-expanding Zoo.
We’re proud to say: We won the bid. And partnering closely with Zoo administrators and animal specialists, we went on to design environments for the entire exhibit, including 25 new structures and the 30,000 square-foot Elephant Family Quarters, the largest herd room in North America. But more importantly, the relationships we built within the Zoo would continue to grow and allow us to work on other exciting projects.
Building Strong Relationships
For their Asian Highlands exhibit, the Zoo envisioned a long path that would take visitors on an immersive journey from the foothills of Northern India to the Himalayan Mountains. Much of what we designed and built throughout the eight-acre experience took us beyond the rocks and mud banks that often populate our work. This time, we would create whole worlds.
As you progress through the Asian Highlands you see feature after feature that we brought to life, including an entire hillside township overtaken by nature, cooling trees in the red panda habitat, a multitude of streams and water features, kids’ climbing boulders, a Buddhist monument, dynamic habitats for the Siberian tiger and snow leopard, and 40-foot, near-vertical cliff faces for the mountainous takins to traverse. All of this is set against a forest landscape that changes with elevation, from deciduous to coniferous, and includes 750 feet of themed viewing structures.
The collaboration between Edge and the Zoo payed off: Asian Highlands was named the “Best Zoo Exhibit” by USA Today for two years in a row (2020 and 2021).
OWEN SEA LION SHORES
A Facility in Need of Updates
The original Owen Sea Lion Pavilion was completed in 1972 and drew crowds of enthusiastic visitors. But by the mid 2010s, the Zoo’s sea lion offering needed an update.
We partnered with the Zoo at the earliest design stages and were involved in every aspect of the new, reimagined exhibit’s development. Our collective goal was to reproduce the rocky, Pacific Coast habitat as accurately as possible, and so much of our work involved research, like traveling to Canada to source driftwood and collect references for underwater sea life and rock formations.
Back in Omaha, we got to work, building a 275,000-gallon saltwater pool with chambers that produce natural waves from four to twelve feet deep. We built a habitat that includes an island, rock structures for sunning, an underwater kelp forest, a shallow beach where mothers can give birth and where pups can learn to swim, a three-story waterfall, and a flooded cavern.
A Thoughtful and Creative Approach
We also added details to support instinctive animal behaviors. Throughout the entire one-acre exhibit are spaces in the rock formations where frozen fish can be hidden. This encourages the animals to range over the whole pool to hunt for their food.
We were thoughtful about creating the best visitor experience, too. As you approach the exhibit, you pass under a Pacific Coast sea arch that is the biggest piece of rock work in the entire Zoo. We installed a 40-foot underwater viewing window along the pool, and a boulder crawl-space for kids. And finally, we built a shaded seating pavilion for up to 150 people for animal training demonstrations.
The new Owen Sea Lion Shores opened in Summer 2020 after two years of development and $27.5 million. It was the first new exhibit to open after the Zoo’s temporary closure due to COVID-19 — which, for us, makes it even more special.
Creating the Largest Indoor Rainforest in the World
When the Lied Jungle opened in 1992, it was the largest indoor rainforest in the world and the Zoo’s first total-immersion exhibit. Offering vantages of habitats from the canopy all the way down to the forest floor, the Jungle quickly became a perfect place to see monkeys, tapirs, macaws, pygmy hippos, and more.
A Facility in Need of Updates
Today, it’s still the largest indoor rainforest in America — and unsurprisingly, it needs routine upkeep. With Asian, African, and South American rainforests all represented in the 1.5-acre space, there are lots of trees that need periodic doctoring up.
When a tree in the Jungle falls or ages out, we try to keep as much of its structure intact as possible, so there’s never a need to tear the entire piece down and replace it. We work with the existing core and, with a little creativity, bring the old tree back to life.
Whether it’s rehabbing trees or dreaming up whole exhibits from scratch, creating unforgettable experiences is all about a dedication to craft and getting the details right. Taken together, all of our work at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium shows the passion we bring to every project. And it shows how a healthy, long-running client-vendor relationship can keep bearing fruit, year after year.
HENRY DOORLY ZOO'S ADVENTURE TRAILS
Henry Doorly’s Adventure Trails also has a floating raft, an elevated net tunnel, and a tree structured play area,
Adventure Trails features a ship wreck themed playground
The Adventure Trails area features giant insect play sculptures
The Alaskan Adventure Splash Pad allows kids to play in water features alongside giant whale and sea-lion statues.Thanks to our amazing working relationship with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, we are now in PHASE 2 of this project! Stay Tuned for more pictures and updates.