Akron, OH

Bamboo Bugaboo: How Akron Zoo's Wild Asia provides for its pandas

Angela Kervorkian-Wattle

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Akron Zoo's new exhibit, Wild Asia, also features an expanded, pristine home for the red pandas, whose natural habitat mainly consists of bamboo forests. While the theming process for Lehner Family Foundation's Wild Asia was ongoing, horticulture staff had to make decisions on the inevitable bamboo collection.

Bamboo is a staple zoo plant collection because it has "the look" that can transform the atmosphere of the zoo from a city-suburban to the forest of Asia. It can create an "authentic" experience by obscuring things that aren't supposed to belong in the wild. Besides that, it grows rapidly, forming dense thickets. In this case, it will be an excellent snack for red pandas too.

Horticulture Manager Kris Jackson describes bamboo as "extremely persistent". Akron Zoo commonly uses Phyllostachys nuda or 'nude sheath bamboo', which is a type of bamboo that is hard to contain and will spread underneath sidewalks, fences, and even into other animal habitats.

The zoo has incorporated a better practice has throughout Wild Asia by surrounding its bamboo thickets with concrete and thick plastic installed deep into the ground to prevent new bamboo plants from spreading underground. Though it is neither cheap nor an easy solution, it is necessary to contain the plant. Wild Asia's horticulturists provided the plants with nutrient-rich soil to prevent the bamboos from spreading further, so the plant does not spread its roots to find "food" elsewhere.

Akron Zoo's work in managing bamboos is an example of how they protect their native landscape while providing positive experiences for animals and visitors alike.

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