Water Feature Construction for Exotic Animal Habitats

Published on August 29, 2022

Roosevelt Zoo Pond
Time for a drink at the Roosevelt Zoo Tiger Pond.
Ostriches at Arizona Aquatic Gardens
Redneck & Black Cape ostriches at Arizona Aquatic Gardens.

Every time I am contacted for help on a project that involves an animal exhibit—bears, moose, ostriches, big cats, alligators—I get a bit excited. It’s probably the kid inside me who grew up in the country trying to catch any critter I could get my hands on. (Who knew porcupines could climb trees?) My parents also thought hybrid wolves would make good pets—which I 100% don’t recommend when kids are involved. But I digress.

Along with this excitement comes the adventure of the unknown. Forging into new waters seems to bring with it a set of unique challenges that can’t always be anticipated and will inevitably need to be overcome.

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To set the stage, one of my roles at EasyPro is to help our customers find the best solutions to accomplish the goals of whatever project they have in front of them. In the case of exotic animals, starting with lots of questions seems to be the best strategy. All the same general principles of normal water features apply: We want good water quality whether the feature is going to be used by a fish or a bear. However, it can be so easy to miss the obvious when you are presented with something completely new. Here are a few examples.

Ostriches

They have feathers and can be mean. Seems obvious, right?

For example, take one of my experiences with Peter from Arizona Aquatic Gardens. Peter’s day job is supplying the freshwater aquarium world with some great fish and water treatments, and while we only play a small part in that, Peter also has a ranch full of exotic animals — no small accomplishment!

Peter and his family have implemented nationally recognized conservation and breeding programs for some animals that I am not even quite sure how to pronounce. He has been kind enough to share pictures of a few of his world-class habitats, including his ostrich enclosure. The main event in this habitat is, of course, the ostriches, but in the background is a simple concrete pond with a fountain.

Arizona Aquatic Gardens crane
An East African Crowned Crane enjoys its new digs at Arizona Aquatic Gardens.

The fountain was down, and Peter needed a submersible pump to get it back up and running again as soon as possible. We quickly shipped him one of our top-selling pumps, and all was well until a few weeks later when Peter called to inform me that the pump had quit again. He told me how dangerous of a job it can be to venture into the enclosure with the aggressive birds to service the pump.

We shipped Peter a new pump right away to swap with the failed pump in one undertaking, rather than Peter having to risk a swift kick from an angry Jurassic Park-sized bird at two different entrances into the enclosure. Once the failed pump arrived back at our warehouse for inspection, I felt equal parts relieved that the pump was actually fine, and embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of giant bird feathers plugging up the pump from the very beginning. Based on what we dug out of the pump’s impeller during our inspection, we realized that some simple pre-screening was all that was needed here to make Peter’s life much easier. (Needless to say, a new question to ask has been added to my checklist when it comes to enclosures with large birds.)

Tigers

Another success story I was able to take part in was the tiger exhibit at the Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot, North Dakota. I don’t think I’ll forget Irv Geffre from Alta Falls, a long-time distributor based in Minnesota, calling me and saying something to the effect of, “I’ve got a really neat project that’s wide open for whatever we want. It’s going to have tigers in it and a couple of lined ponds for them to swim in. ”

Overhead view Rochester Zoo Tiger ponds
Overhead view of the Tiger Ponds at Roosevelt Zoo.

My list of questions for this one got long quickly, but the primary goals were straightforward: Protect the pond’s liner and equipment from some pretty wicked claws. Give the cats clean water to drink from and play in. Provide a feature that was simple and safe for the zoo’s maintenance crew to maintain. Provide an aesthetically pleasing feature to catch the eye of the zoo’s many visitors.

Snow Urials Arizona Aquatic Gardens
Snow Urials congregate at the Arizona Aquatic Gardens.

But of course, goal No. 1 was to protect the liner, because what good is a pond that doesn’t hold water? For this, all the credit goes to Irv. His plan of installing Porous Pave over the liner has proven to be an extremely effective, paw-friendly solution. The zoo was more than willing to give it a try, and everyone involved couldn’t be happier with the results.

Goal No. 2, keeping the water clean, was accomplished with two skid-mounted filtration systems that include cartridge filters and 400-watt commercial UV lights. We chose cartridge filters because they are simple to maintain, and without fish or plants, the biological needs of the ponds are low. The UV lights provided a safe alternative to chlorine, yielding clear water that is safe for the cats to drink and does not affect the EPDM liners.

To help with keeping the zoo’s maintenance staff safe, these skid systems are tucked away in (and crammed into) a nearby building to protect the filtration systems and the zoo’s staff from the curious cats. This location was critical in keeping the zoo’s staff and the cats in their respective areas.

If you haven’t gathered it already, the Roosevelt Park Zoo has been a great partner in this project during the planning and construction, and more importantly, the maintenance of the feature. This project was full of out-of-the-box solutions, and while credit can’t go to just one person, Irv’s creative solutions really helped hit this one out of the park!

Into the Wild

Arizona Aquatic Gardens
Redneck & Black Cape ostriches at Arizona Aquatic Gardens.

If someone were to ask me what I see that makes exotic animal projects successful and why they are worth the extra effort, I think it starts with someone being willing to step outside their comfort zone and have perseverance. I have seen customers bring this to the table time and time again, and in almost every instance, they get to walk away with a really neat addition to their portfolio or private escape.

I end up with a whole new category of customers and some cool stories to tell. For my part, I feel blessed to be able to contribute my small piece helping folks do what they do best, while getting a chance to remember what it was like to have my bedroom pillow become a wolf’s habitat. I think I’m going to have to get that pillow back…

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