New River Otter Exhibit at Central FL Zoo! (UPDATED)

Over the Labor Day weekend, I made the trek up to Sanford, FL–a suburb of Orlando, approximately 2.5 hours from my home base in Bradenton–just to check out their new North American River Otter exhibit on opening day.     The Central Florida Zoo is a small, quaint park, tucked into what appears to be native Florida swamp lands.  The zoo features winding boardwalks, a gravel parking lot, and a ropes course weaving between old live oaks dripping in Spanish moss.   A fairly simple zoo–most exhibits feature welded wire mesh supported by thick, rustic timbers.  Basic, but not offensive providing an easy, carefree family day out.

The new otter exhibit is markedly different.  Adorned with high-quality rockwork as mudbanks (complete with roots and branches), the exhibit features three glass viewing areas, each from a well-conceived and unique vantage.  The main view, along the longest dimension of the exhibit, allows for partial underwater viewing.  The water that day was crystal clear.  Unfortunately, the otter wasn’t swimming while I was there.

The other two views occur on the short dimensions and are located in such a way as to eliminate cross-viewing of guests.  The exhibit is filled with turf as well as medium and large plantings, enough to allow the otter to explore, play, and, to my dismay, disappear.

The exhibit is spacious, but sized for at least two otters.  Since the Zoo did not previously have them in the collection, the otters are slowly being introduced to their exhibit–and to each other.  Hopefully soon, they’ll both be on exhibit together, increasing the odds of seeing at least one while visiting.

My only criticism is the shade, or lack of shade, at each viewing window.  At the underwater viewing glass, the design of the shade structure is visually appealing, but the slatted design of the pergola creates shadow that, while minimizing glare, is incredibly distracting and almost disorienting.  At one of the dry viewing panels–where no shade was provided at all–the glare was so bad, the window was almost unusable.  I did visit during the afternoon (2pm), so wonder if this problem persists all day, or if I was perhaps just unlucky with my timing.


So…you want the details of the exhibit?  Ask and you shall receive, my friends!

Designer: Borrelli + Partners, Inc. (Orlando, FL)

Total Area (sf): 1540

Total Volume (gal): 11,000

Holding: 424 sf CMU building with (2) 4′ x 5′ stalls, plus an off-exhibit outdoor yard

Project timeline: Design began in Nov. 2010; Construction began in July 2011; Exhibit opened Sept. 2012

Total Cost: $80,000

Yes, that last number is correct.  $80,000!!  This exhibit feels like $1 million, so kudos to the Zoo and staff for getting creative and finding cost cutting ways to achieve the project.  “The Zoo typically builds or updates exhibits for less than what the average zoo can do since our staff helps with building and design efforts,” said Shonna Green, Director, Communications & Community Resources for the Zoo.  Among these efforts was the rockwork, constructed by a zoo staffer.

Additionally, the Zoo confirmed the opening date to not be strategic, but in fact simply dictated by completion of construction.  “We normally prefer to open an exhibit over spring break or during the fall, however we were finished with construction in August.  The Zoo couldn’t hide an exhibit of this size from our guests; therefore we determined to open it over a long holiday weekend for our community,” said Green.

Again, congratulations on a great exhibit, and thank you for sharing the exhibit details.

2 thoughts on “New River Otter Exhibit at Central FL Zoo! (UPDATED)

  1. I love that you pointed out the design eliminates cross-viewing of guests. Something people wouldn’t think of but so vital for eliminating distraction to make sure the focus is where it ought to be.
    And yes, from that shot of the underwater viewing spot it looks like you could get pretty dizzy pretty fast.

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