Nestled on 50 acres of rolling hills on the edge of Evansville, Indiana is the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Gardens, home to the new, world class Amazonia exhibit. The $13 million project opened in 2008 with 150 new animals, and the new attraction virtually doubled the zoo attendance. Walking through the rain forest, visitors have cageless encounters with Amazon native birds and up close and personal observations of monkeys, tapir, capybara and even the elusive jaguar.
Curator Paul Bouseman chose lightweight aggregate as the prime component for the manufactured soils used throughout the new exhibit. “We specified rotary-kiln lightweight aggregate because it offers a sterile, non-reactive and highly absorptive media that we use in the design of all of the soils in Amazonia. The absorptive qualities of lightweight aggregate helps maintain and hold the moisture necessary for recreating the environment of the Amazon jungle.”
“We were very familiar with lightweight aggregate and have worked with Jack Spaulding and Hydraulic Press Brick Company at Mooresville, Indiana for many years,” Bouseman explained. “In the past, we used Haydite as a soil medium in other locations, including the petting zoo area and areas displaying our hoofed animals. The openness and draining characteristics of the lightweight aggregate blended with our native clays creates a soil conducive to good hoof health, and the wart hogs love it. We use the BX (3/8” x 0) size in our petting area. The lightweight aggregate is easily cleaned with a slit scoop and stays puddle-free because of the excellent draining characteristics.”
Bouseman went on to say that lightweight aggregate is used in many of their soil mediums in the botanic garden and throughout the zoo. He said that one of the more unique applications for using lightweight aggregate in the botanic area is in the propagation of their orchids as the coarse, 3/4″ material offers a perfect medium to start their orchid cuttings.
The mission of Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden is “To foster the preservation of the Earth’s diverse species and living systems through an active role in education and conservation in our regional and professional community. We strive to forge connections between people and the natural world by providing quality experiences that promote understanding and celebrate the rich tapestry of life.” As an integral part of the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden’s design, lightweight aggregate is helping to achieve that mission.