African Adventure at Fresno Chaffee Zoo
Fresno, Calif.
Region California
Landscape/Urban Development

Project Team
Fresno Chaffee Zoo
Lead Designer The Portico Group
Contractor Harris Construction Co. Inc.
Civil Engineer Alan Mok Engineering
Structural Engineer MLA Engineering
MEP Engineer LP Consulting Engineers Inc.
Life Support Consultant T.A. Maranda Consultants Inc.
Lighting Consultant Zoological Lighting Services

To create this 13-acre exhibit—thought to be the most naturalistic African savanna exhibit in any North American urban zoo—the project team had to overcome logistical challenges at the 100-plus-year-old public park, create an authentic environment with natural components, and accommodate the needs of animals, visitors and staff.

The $55.7-million habitat houses more than 100 creatures, including elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses, lions, meerkats, zebras and cheetahs. The design and construction team developed phasing plans to build the structures, infrastructure systems and exhibits while saving 374 of the 413 trees in Roeding Park.

A giraffe-feeding platform offers human-animal interaction, while a 1-million-gallon water treatment plant maintains the moats and waterfalls.

Local contractor Harris Construction “used templates and chainsaws to mill timbers to exacting tolerances, installed authentic-looking thatched roofs and large, granite-boulder rockery walls, created a huge baobab tree from gunite and blended in hand-crafted faux boulders, creating an extremely natural-looking exhibit,” says Bill Bunch, vice president of operations.

The hundreds of massive artificial boulders, constructed over rebar cages with plastic mesh, were made by the firm Cost of Wisconsin. Some of these artificial rocks are large enough to walk into; they also hide utility outlets and control panels and allow zookeepers to feed and care for the animals without being observed by visitors.

“Special considerations for the health and safety of the newly arriving animals, as well as the workers, became a critical part of our daily activities,” Bunch adds. The elephants, in particular, were a big challenge. The team made significant grade changes at four dry and wet moats to ensure the animals’ well-being.

Best of the Best Projects 2016