25 September 2010

Chester Zoo – New Biodome, the Heart of Africa

Image Provided by Chester Zoo - with thanks
Chester Zoo in the North West of England has been given the green light for an ambitious new biodome project which is to be known as The Heart of Africa. This underlines the zoo’s ambition to become a major force in the conservation of biodiversity on a global basis but – of course – to also attract the crowds that will make this ambition a reality with their hard cash.

 Image Provided by Chester Zoo
As far as speculating to accumulating goes, this is a project on a grand scale. The dome will contain – among many others, an insurance breeding population of the Lowland Gorilla. This means that there will be a gene pool different to that in the wild which can, at some point, be reintroduced to bolster that of the wild population.

 Image Courtesy of Chester Zoo
Yet while the gorillas at the zoo now have what you might call a traditional enclosure, their new home will be a vast rainforest setting, which will also house other species in their natural setting too.

At first sight it may look like an Eden Project in the North and while the EP does magnificent work, the Heart of Africa biodome takes advantage of more recent technological advances and has a wider ranging remit. Visitors will remain unobtrusive and the animals will be able to live in comparative undisturbed peace while allowing the human visitors an emotionally engaging visit.

There are naysayers for this kind of project, of course, who say that while the real Congo is under threat then it is there that investment should be made in order to sustain that environment for future generations. However, the Chester Zoo biodome will enable millions to visit a realistic rain forest while avoiding the real one. As the Galapagos has shown, ecotourism is not always good for the environment it purports to protect. A visit to the biodome may disincline people to go and see (and potentially spoil) the real thing while encouraging them perhaps to invest to help protect its future.

The dimensions of the new biodome are staggering. It will be 16,000 square meters in size and 34 meters in height and has been designed by the architects Procter and Matthews. Visitors will transfer from the Cheshire countryside to the heat of a Congolese rainforest, together with its 80 percent humidity.

As well as the gorillas, the biodome will be home to a group of chimpanzees and the shy okapi, a relative of the giraffe. Add Diana monkeys, crocodiles (in the biodome’s water feature) and pygmy hippos and it looks like the Chester Zoo biodome will be an awe-inspiring experience. And then there’s the insects...

Note: the animals pictured here are for illustrative purposes and are not current residents at Chester zoo.  The biodome has yet to be built!