Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!
As we toured around the new Reptile Walk with Horticulture Manager, Mike Letzring, a woman came up to Mr. Letzring and asked him the name of a flower in the walk. Mr. Letzring informed the woman that the flower was called a bird of paradise, but is not the same bird of paradise plant that people typically know. He then gave the woman the flower’s scientific name, and went on to explain that this certain flower can be found in Palm Springs and Palm Desert almost year round. The woman replied that she was from Canada, and did not normally get to see these flowers.
This simple conversation got me thinking about just how amazing the Zoo really is. Thousands of people travel to San Diego’s world famous Zoo each year. In fact, in only one day at the Zoo I have observed people speaking languages from at least five different countries. Though the public generally visit the Zoo to see its mass variety of animals, an often overlooked factor is the variety of plants. The exotic landscaping, in my opinion, is one of the best parts of the Zoo, and is what ties the entire park together.
The San Diego Zoo has thousands of different plant types and is an accredited botanical garden. Some of the Zoo’s plants are common, called “landscape value plants”, and some of the plants are very rare, called “collection-based plants.” These different plants originate all over the world, and the San Diego Zoo contains foliage from nearly every continent (save Antarctica). In the Reptile Walk alone, one can find trees, bushes, and vines from areas like Madagascar, Australia, Asia, Florida, Mexico, and South America. The Zoo is like a global garden, representing diversity from many different areas.
Horticulturists like Mr. Letzring utilize the diversity of these plants in an appealing way for the Zoo’s visual experience. They do the landscaping outside of exhibits, and inside the animal enclosures as well. Arranging the plants of animal enclosures requires a well thought out procedure. First, horticulturists research the foliage that grows around the animal’s natural habitat. Sometimes these plants are difficult to obtain, so they also research plants that work well in similar environments. They make a list of the foliage they are considering to put in the enclosure and have the list approved by the animal nutritionists, as a way to avoid any toxic plants. After the horticulturists have done their research, they must also consider the most effective and visually appealing ways of arranging the landscape. The Zoo wants exhibits that are comforting to the animals, and attractive to the guests.
The Zoo considers the guests as well as the animals when designing the landscape, because the plants inside and near an enclosure can greatly enhance the Zoo experience. If foliage is arranged correctly, it has the potential to bring a person into a whole new country. The bamboo of the panda exhibit transports a person into Asia; the giant trees of Tiger Trail transform a walkway into a jungle; the foliage of Elephant Odyssey turn a tourist into an explorer. It is the landscape that connects the guests to the animals, and makes them feel like they are traveling the world.
Keira, Real World Team
Fall 2012, Week 3