Glazing Creates Safe, Interactive Encounters at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
June 22, 2011

Photo: Catherine Higley
Glass can be tough; so tough, in fact it can stand up against the forces of natural disasters, bomb blasts and bullets. It can also be strong enough to allow children to come nearly face to face with some of the world’s biggest cats and other dangerous animals. Such was the case recently at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colo.

By now there are few who’ve not seen the video of the child at the zoo standing in front of the lion exhibit. In some images it looks as though the lioness, named Lomela, is about to devour the child, though zoo officials say Lomela was most likely simply being "playful". Either way, thick, strong glass stood sturdy between them.

According to Katie Borremans, public relations manager for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Lomela was born there at the zoo in July 2007 and is estimated to weigh between 280 and 300 pounds.

She adds, “We've had 13 lion cubs born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo over the years, and they all seem to take an interest in small children. Children are smaller and more at the lions' level, and frequently, children are more animated than adults. Our lions decide on their own whether they want to be at the glass or in a secluded area. It often seems when children are around the lions prefer to be at the glass to watch.”

So with the lions choosing to be close to the glass when children are around, ensuring safety is critical.

“The glass in the exhibit is triple-pane, laminated glass, similar to bullet-resistant glass,” explains Borremans. “It's 11/2-inches thick, and one square foot weighs about 15 pounds. In this particular exhibit, there are a total of 11 4- x 6-foot panels of glass and there are other solid structures on the top and bottom of the glass.”

While Borremans did not have information about the original glass installer, she says a local company, City Glass Company Inc., replaced one of the panels for aesthetic purposes last September.™ also contact City Glass Co., and while representatives there confirmed replacing a panel last September, they did not know who had done the original installation. Likewise, they were also unable to provide information about who had supplied the glass.

Borremans notes that similar glass is also used in Primate World (gorillas, orangutans, etc.), Rocky Mountain Wild (grizzly bears) and Aquatics (penguins, python, Komodo dragon).

“As an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo, all of our exhibits must meet or exceed set standards,” she says. “We specifically design our exhibits to promote up-close animal experiences, and we work closely with engineers to meet the proper requirements.”

According to Borremans, the family says they filmed the lioness encounter on April 30, 2011. Since going viral the video has received much attention.

“We are certainly excited about the national, even international, attention this video is drawing. It's daily interactions like this at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo that inspire people to be interested in animals and take action to protect them in the wild, which is our mission. We love seeing kids take an interest in animals at such a young age,” says Boerrmans, who adds that similar encounters often occur at the Zoo.

“Because we design our exhibits to promote up-close animal experiences, guests at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo experience interactions like this on a daily basis, whether it's with the lions, bears, gorillas and orangutans, or a host of other animals.”

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