April 7, 2017
Welcome Back, Gharials
- as seen by -Gary Smith
When the Bronx Zoo’s Jungle World opened in 1985, one of the landmark exhibit species was gharial crocodiles. Before the arrival of our new group of these unique animals, the Bronx Zoo’s Herpetology Department requested that the WCS Exhibit Shop develop a poolside site where the gharials could haul out to bask under full-spectrum ultraviolet lights. To warm the gharials, Exhibit Shop staff replaced the sandy beach with a 225 square foot cement pad, lined with thermostat-controlled heat cables. In addition, we built and installed a large artificial fallen branch to project over the beach, concealing five radiant heat panels and seven UV light fixtures. With the light and heat coming from this branch, and the heat radiating up from the beach, the gharials can warm up to 100°F while receiving much-needed ultraviolet radiation – sort of a toaster oven combined with a tanning bed.
At 18 feet long, and with a five foot spread, the artificial branch (above) required significant structural support, and making it look credibly real was an aesthetic challenge. Before fabricating the steel structure at our facility behind the old World of Darkness, Senior Exhibit Specialist Carolyn Fuchs first worked out the armature requirements in a small model. She then figured out how to break up the armature into smaller modules, so our staff could transport the branch into the Jungle World building. In the photo, she is putting finishing touches on the fiberglass superstructure, in preparation for the final sculpting of the surface, done in soft epoxy dough. Once the branch was painted, our staff brought the components to Jungle World’s Gharial Beach and reassembled it onsite, tying it into the existing mudbank walls.
We’re confident that the gharials are as excited about their new beach as we were when building it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The WCS Exhibit Shop constructs and renovates exhibits at the Bronx Zoo. Using steel, concrete, fiberglass, epoxy and paint, the shop designs and builds trees and rocks, fabricates museum-quality artifacts, paints murals, and creates enrichment devices to stimulate our animal collections.