Weedon Architects echoes natural habitat at Twycross Zoo

Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire has officially opened one of the largest gibbon facilities in Europe in its most ambitious development to date, Gibbon Forest.



overing about 4,000m² (nearly an acre), Gibbon Forest is 10 times larger than the primates’ previous enclosure and is specially designed to replicate the natural forest environment of gibbons as well as provide an exciting new experience for visitors.

The innovative £2m development marks the latest phase in the zoo’s £55m capital investment programme, and consists of a central building, 7m in height (two storeys), which will raise visitors up for a closer view of the gibbons, while outside, visitors will also be able to observe gibbon families calling and swinging across the four moated islands.

Designed by Weedon Architects, the two-storey building with four moated islands replicates the gibbons’ natural habitat in rainforests and the team’s design was informed with specialist knowledge and experience of primate experts working at the zoo. This continues Weedon Architect’s ethos to deliver a much more interactive experience for the visitor as part of the masterplan.

Twycross Zoo has the most diverse collection of gibbons in the UK, and Gibbon Forest will house the zoo’s four different species, all of which are endangered in the wild: agile, pileated, siamang and Northern white-cheeked. The Zoo is recognised internationally as a specialist in primate conservation: as well as having the widest collection of gibbons in Europe, it is also the only zoo in the UK, and one of four worldwide, to house all four types of great ape (gorillas, orang-utans, bonobos and chimpanzees). The ground-breaking design of this new habitat has been informed by the specialist knowledge and experience of the team of primate experts working at Twycross Zoo.

Swinging through the trees

Dr Charlotte Macdonald, Director of Life Sciences at Twycross Zoo and Chair of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Gibbon Taxon Advisory Group adds: “Gibbon Forest is an exciting development because in this new environment, the primates will be living and behaving as they would in the forests of south-east Asia. Gibbons spend most of their life in the tree-tops, rarely descending to the ground, and our gibbons will be able to swing through the trees, replicating their natural behaviour in the wild. It is amazing to see them move through trees with such ease and speed, and we hope visitors will enjoy watching them too.”

Special features adapted for the animals include a steel mesh ceiling from which keepers can feed the gibbons, encouraging their natural behaviour of finding food high in the tree tops. Each of the building’s four pods, one for each gibbon species at the zoo, has a special bio-floor made of composting mulch. Properly maintained, this mulched floor will act like a natural soil and as it biodegrades, it will generate high humidity levels which are beneficial for the gibbons.

Dr Sharon Redrobe, Chief Executive at Twycross Zoo, explains: “Scientific knowledge about natural animal behaviour and understanding of welfare standards is constantly advancing, and zoos need to evolve to reflect this. Gibbon Forest is the most significant development in Twycross Zoo’s history and demonstrates our ongoing commitment to wildlife conservation, as well as our ambition to offer visitors a fun and interesting day out.”

Stuart Curran, Associate Partner at Weedon Architects adds: “As an architect, it is a real challenge to be faced with the prospect of designing facilities for multiple end users, especially when one of them is unable to speak for themselves! Of the utmost importance was creating an environment that provides Twycross Zoo’s gibbon groups with the maximum space and opportunity to exhibit natural behaviour. The site layout, along with on-going strategic planting and landscaping, has been designed to benefit both gibbons and visitors by giving a naturalistic habitat for the gibbons, while minimising the effect of visitors’ physical presence, allowing for an immersive, but non-intrusive experience.”

Other exciting recent developments at Twycross Zoo include: Giraffe Savannah, heralding the return of giraffes to the zoo earlier last year; Elephant Creek; immersive walkthroughs with lemurs, lorikeets and butterflies; the largest children’s water-play area in Leicestershire; an extension to the orang-utan house; and a new cafe.

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