Zoo Way-finding

The expectations of visiting a zoo are different for everyone. Generally people visit zoos to see the animals and that’s probably where the correlation ends. Some of us like the surprises and sense of adventure we get from visiting a zoo. Some like the rides, shows and other activities a zoo may provide. Others like to have a one-on-one encounter with animals and some can’t think of anything worse and simply visit the zoo to relax and have some quality family time.  Whatever the reason is that we visit a zoo, when we enter those gates, we want it immediately. We want to feel in control, we want to know where everything is and we want it to be easy and convenient to navigate the way to our personalised experience.  Any less of an experience usually ends up on Trip Adviser! And that’s where way-finding comes into play.

Central Park Zoo Map

So let’s look at a variety of the more obvious methods zoos use to help in way-finding.  Maps are the main tool to help us  find our way around a zoo, and most zoos give that to patrons at point of entry. Of course nowadays we often have access to this map online, giving us an opportunity to plan the day way before we get there and use on mobile devices to find our way around the zoo.

Orientation Point at Australia Zoo
Marker – coinciding with park map

Once inside, signs are key to helping us make our way around the zoo.  Good signage will point out directions and location of animals and services  – this is most effectively achieved in picture form so that visitors from all nationalities can understand them.   

Larger zoos like the Bronx Zoo have maps placed at the front of each themed area like  Africa or Asia giving  a more detailed look at each specific location – these areas are generally themed to coincide with the type of animals housed, in some good examples even down to the bins. Generally these themed areas are shaded a different colour on the zoo map with the signs in the themed area having a corresponding colour. Some zoos also paint different colour shapes onto the walking paths and represent this on the Map. Taronga Zoo uses green circles to represent the main path going through the zoo and other colours highlighting  the nine themed loop paths that take you further into the zoo. 

Africa at the Bronx Zoo

Land marks can also be used for visitors to get their bearings, and if they are large enough they can then be used to gauge their location in relation to the land mark.  Many zoos also provide  Information desks at the front section of zoos to give people even more information about how to get around the zoo as well as advertise show times and value add propositions.Some zoos also place staff or volunteers in key spots to help point visitors in the direction of up coming events and shows.

Lastly a well designed zoo can make all the difference. The best form of zoo design is a loop configuration-meaning if you keep on walking you will eventually get back to the beginning.  Of course the zoo doesn’t want everybody walking the same way as it could  put pressure on services so visitors are given options at the front of the zoo – one way to the lions and another way to the tigers giving visitors a ‘choose your own adventure’ moment . Some zoos don’t have the luxury of a loop configuration so have a transportation system like trains, shuttles or even cable cars to whisk people back to the front of the zoo once they get to the very end. 

Alma Park Wildlife Sanctuary

All of this can seem a little overkill  – after all when was the last time you heard of a person getting lost in a zoo? The truth is this isn’t about you getting lost or even necessarily finding your way around. It’s a science and is all about how it makes you feel. The more you don’t think about how you’re getting around the zoo the more the zoo can control your movement towards shows, food and souvenirs!

When a zoo puts their way-finding together, and then adds an itinerary of shows, feeding times and keeper talks, they can pretty much determine where a majority of people are going to be at any given moment and then use this fact to entertain and provide extra services. All the while giving you the experience you came for in the first place!

For example big crowd pleasing shows  can be held at lunch time close to the zoos restaurants encouraging  patrons to have lunch straight after the show is complete. Australia Zoo does this well providing one trade mark crocodile show daily  at 12 noon. They hold this in a large stadium called the Crocoseum which is big enough to hold all of the zoo visitors for that day. Once the show is complete visitors exit past an equally big food hall, all for your convenience of course. 

Manipulation and working with way-finding  happens all the time from the placement of objects like the ATM at the front gate to the location of food carts, photo opportunities with animals, and balloon sellers at the most convenient locations. The fact is that a good zoo will create a way-finding system to give patrons a great experience  whilst using it to maximise their profit. It’s just good business. 


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