Hello Neighbor! Mixed Species Exhibits

A “mixed species” exhibit is one in which a few different kinds of animals live in the same zoo habitat.  Mixed species exhibits are great for the zoo visitors; it’s fun to learn about ecosystems and the interactions between animals in the wild.  If one animal decides to hide from view, there might be another in the same enclosure that is up and active.  Mixed-species exhibits are great for the animals too!  When everyone gets along, living together is more stimulating for all the animals in the exhibit.  But it takes planning and work to make sure that the neighbors stay friendly.  So how does it work?

Choosing the Animals

Some animals are better suited for a mixed-species exhibit than others.  You probably won’t see a big cat sharing its space with another kind of animal!  Sloths, on the other hand, can live with almost anyone.   It’s also important to think about where an animal lives in the wild, and what other kinds of animals would live in the same area.   We want to be able to show visitors the kinds of interactions that might take place in the wild. 

Planning the Exhibit

Whether you’re building a new enclosure from scratch or simply re-designing an existing one, planning for mixed species is key to having everyone get along.  For instance, it you want to have two kinds of snakes live together, it helps if one is terrestrial (lives on the ground) and one is arboreal (lives in the trees).  Then we can make sure to put up perching and add substrate so both animals have somewhere to hang out that is not in the way of their cage mate.  We can also add a hide box or a creep – a place for smaller animals to go that large ones cannot fit.   Making sure each animal in the exhibit has a place to call their own will keep everyone content. 

Feeding Time

We don’t want animals in the exhibit to compete over food, or steal lunch from their neighbors.  Keepers have to get creative when it comes to feeding everyone in a mixed species exhibit.  Sometimes it means placing feeders up high for taller animals, or under a hide for small ones.  Our bongos and the birds that live with them are separated at feeding time so all animals get their fair share.   Even with all that hard work, sometimes the animals will share their dinner anyway!  Keepers weigh animals regularly to make sure no one is eating too much or too little. 

Getting Along Long-Term

Even with the best planning and most established mixed species exhibit, it takes work to make sure all the neighbors are happy together.  Some animals may need to live by themselves during their breeding season, or exhibits need to be changed or updated to accommodate older animals or babies.  Keepers monitor all the interactions between animals to make sure no one is getting stressed.  We want to make sure that everyone in the exhibit is happy, healthy, and neighborly!  

The next time you stop by an exhibit at the zoo, make sure to check out all the species that might be sharing a habitat!


About Ellen Gallagher

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Ellen has been a zookeeper for almost ten years. 

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