For a mother escorting her kids through the Philadelphia Zoo, it was a close encounter of the ferocious kind. Directly in front of her as she strolled down the zoo’s main walkway was a Siberian tiger, a 400-plus-lb. carnivore capable of tearing apart a wild antelope. But rather than panic, the family laughed. The tiger was out of its lair, but its pathway was at a safe, meshed-in distance from onlookers, and after a few moments of looking around, the tiger moved on.
The tiger’s trail, dubbed Big Cat Crossing, is part of a bigger initiative called Zoo360 that has changed the way humans and animals experience the nation’s oldest zoo. There’s no question the experience is compelling for the humans. On a recent visit, I watched children drop their lunches in awe of white-faced saki monkeys hanging out in the trees. I witnessed one couple stop midconversation when a gorilla lumbered overhead, and saw more than a few families startled by the appearance of a large cat that seemed eerily close to them. But the bigger impact of Zoo360, says its chief operating officer, Andrew Baker, may be its effort to transform the experience of animals in captivity.