The Northwest Passage

Business Perspectives, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

The Northwest Passage


The Northwest Passage exhibit that is coming to the Memphis Zoo will take people of the Mid-South on a journey through the history, culture, and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest during the time of Lewis and Clark. The idea for this exhibit began with the desire to build a better home for the Zoo's polar bears. The 3.5-acre exhibit will feature over 20 animals from this region in a setting that pays tribute to the Northwest's Native American culture. Throughout the exhibit, the story of the Northwest Native Americans and the wildlife of the area will be told through interactive educational graphics, architecture, and iconography.

The Zoo expects 780,000 visitors this year, including 90,000 school children on class trips. The Memphis City Schools System is the twentieth largest school system in the United States. The district consists of 118,000 students in 178 schools. The Northwest Passage exhibit will become an additional, exceptional educational resource for our school community.

Entry Plaza

Visitors will begin their journey to the Northwest at the circular First National People's Entry Plaza. Towering above the Entry Plaza will be six 20-foot totem poles, created especially for the Memphis Zoo by renowned Northwest Native American carvers David Boxley, Bill Henderson, and Francis Horne. Styles of the Salish, Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian and Kwakitl tribes will be represented. Each totem pole will tell a specific story. Massive cedar logs containing images of owls, bears, whales, ravens, and the mythical thunderbird will be carved and then painted with the traditional red and black color scheme.

The first structure visitor's encounter will be the Entry Pavilion/Gift Shop. Constructed of heavy timbers in the Tlingit style, this pavilion will introduce visitors to the story of this region's people, culture, animals, plants, and geography through educational graphics and native artifacts.

Seal and Sea Lion Amphitheater and Longhouse Classroom

Immediately to the right of the Entry Plaza will be the Seal and Sea Lion Amphitheater and Longhouse Classroom. By viewing seals and sea lions in the same exhibit, visitors will be able to learn about the differences between these two similar marine mammals. The Amphitheater will hold up to 500 visitors in graduated seating that faces the sea lion/seal pool. It will be covered by a shade structure. Trainers will stand on rock outcroppings in the pool and direct the animals during the show. Using operant conditioning, animal trainers will work with the sea lions to provide entertaining and educational performances. Besides being entertaining, the trained behaviors of the sea lions are important to their health. Teaching the animals to present a flipper or perform a certain maneuver allows their keepers to give them a thorough check-up. The Sea Lion Longhouse Classroom, adjacent to the amphitheater, will be styled after buildings of the Haida natives. An above-water/underwater window will cover one side of the pavilion. From this vantage point, students can watch the graceful creatures swim right up to their feet while participating in one of the Zoo's many class offerings (all classes offered by the Memphis Zoo meet TCAP Objective 21--Life Science).

Polar Bear Exhibit and Underwater Viewing Pavilion

The expansive Polar Bear Exhibit will await visitors as they exit the Sea Lion Pavilion. A dry moat will separate visitors from the polar bears, who inhabit a natural-looking rocky shore. As they follow along the rocky edge of the exhibit, visitors will come to a huge pool, big enough to allow ample swimming space for the 1,000-pound bears. …

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