Friday, March 21, 2014

Goodbye to Zoo Negara

My time at Zoo Negara has come to a close. Over the last two months, I have really enjoyed my time here. I have had a lot of fun working at a zoo, on a daily basis, and have gained irreplaceable experiences and knowledge. I’ve learned about tropical horticulture, nursery management, propagation techniques, the commercial landscape process, creating habitats and about some of the differences between the horticulture procedures/practices of Malaysia vs. the United States. Overall, it has been a wonderful educational and professional experience. What is an experience without the people? I have enjoyed interacting with the Parks and Grounds Department, and I truly appreciate them taking me in and showing me the ropes. From the nursery staff whom I communicated in sign language and broken Bahasa and English to our director and his support staff, their contributions helped to make my experience a memorable one.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

World Class Zoo

New Butterfly Garden
Zoo Negara has a goal to be considered a world class zoo by 2015, and this last year has had some of the most changes to the zoo grounds. The changes include building the new panda exhibit, a new walk-in butterfly enclosure,  new bear enclosures, a new elephant enclosure, a new small mammal area, new primate areas,  and completely updated  landscaping and facades for a fresh new look.  The zoo will really have a completely different layout and look by the time all the construction and maintenance is done.

Re-landscaping and Replacing Roof
I spoke with a very enthusiastic man, who works in the main office and takes part in the creation of new concepts for the zoo grounds, about what they hope to accomplish in this remodeling. Being an ecologist himself, his concept is to split the zoo areas up by ecosystems and really bring in hardscaping and plants that thrive in those areas, to make the animal exhibits closely resemble natural habitats. In the new exhibits that are close to being finished, or in the areas already finished, you can really see the incorporation of the plants into their mini ecosystems. One area that is already done and an exemplary example of this incorporation, is Zoo Negara’s aquarium.  Honestly the aquarium is probably the last place I would have thought about the integration of native plants, mostly because I think underwater plants and the first thing that comes to mind is seaweed follow by things in the animal kingdom that are mistaken for underwater plants. How the aquarium uses plants isn’t limited to plants that grow completely submerged though. They have set up some of the aquarium tanks to be half filled and used aquatic plants to emulate swamp areas and wetlands. It’s kind of like those ant farms that look like a cross section and let you view the different layers.

New Guard Rails
New Landscape Area Outside Entrance
During my internship, the remodeling has been happening throughout the grounds.  The amount of progress made and different projects started has been impressive. I wish I had before and after photos  to show how dramatic some of the landscaping changes have been, but more often than not I’m assisting with something else when a project is started and don’t see it until well into the changes. They have replaced older railings, repainted many of the buildings and structures, redone roofing, taken out entire areas of landscaping for new designs, and started maintenance on the river bed that traverses through the zoo grounds. Much of what I have been involved in, during the remodeling, has revolved around the replanting/care of the flora taken out of landscaping and supervision of the river bed maintenance.  The amount of plants removed due to re-landscaping has been impressive. Ain and I spent an entire day just potting bulbs that had been removed! It’s a good thing we weren’t the only people working or taking care of the removed landscaping, or it would have been at least a week of work! The river bed work has also been pretty interesting. Overgrown vegetation that has been obstructing views of exhibits or affecting the structural integrity of the retaining walls were removed and the construction of new support walls have been underway in areas missing them.

New Pagoda
Frankly, Zoo Negara is going to be impressively different by the time 2015 rolls around. I wish I could be here when it’s all done!

Fixing Dips in Paving

Painting New Covering

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


As I mentioned before, the herbivore feces is collected daily and then brought to the back of the nursery to be added to the compost piles. Additionally, the compost includes any fruit or vegetable waste left over from the animal food prep, plant debris, and soil/mulch left over from planting sights. Naturally, the piles build up over time.

Other than using the compost in a potting soil mixture and in the garden beds, the zoo sells the compost to one of the garden supply distributors they work with. These sales not only help get rid of any excess compost that might build up, but also provide a little revenue to help with P&G’s funding.

I have helped twice with the packaging the compost for the distributor to pick up. Each time the distributor asks for another bulk of compost, a sample is sent to a lab for analysis. The compost is first sifted to remove any large un-composted matter and rocks that may end up in the piles. After this, the nursery staff begins packaging the compost. Clear plastic bags are filled and then weighed so that there is at least 2kg in each package. The bags are then heat sealed by hand and stacked for pickup. Each time the distributor has asked for another pick-up, it has been for 100kg.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bamboo Exhibit

Water Lily
When I first arrived, Eza asked me to plan the layout for the pond within the bamboo exhibit, as a project for my internship. After speaking with Eza about what they wanted in the design, I made a preliminary sketch of the landscape around the pond. Eza and Muhammad were pleased with the design I had done and because I finished the task soon after it had been officially assigned to me, they decided to have me plan the entire walkway area. After taking walking measurements of the perimeter, which is very oddly shaped, and becoming familiarized with all the available materials and plants in the nursery, I finished the complete design.

The pond area has the most amount of landscaping due to it being closest to the entrance and because that portion of the exhibit is viewable from the walking path adjacent to it. Additionally, the exhibit is limited to a certain area of landscaping because P&G requires the majority of area to be used for bamboo that will provide food for the pandas in the next five years.

Initial Sketch
The plants included in the design includes: bougainvillea, Neomarica longiflore(yellow walking iris), Colocasia esculenta(elephant’s ear), Cordyline fruiticasa(firebrand), Nymphaea cultivars(water lily), Russelia nidus(bird’s nest fern), Nephrolepis exaltata(boston fern), Heliconia ‘fire flash’.

The pathway is constructed of pavers, which are used throughout the zoo. Due to the exhibit previously being a hippo exhibit, there is only one entrance/exit, so to assist with the flow of visitors the pathway was made circular. Additionally, there are benches throughout to compliment Zoo Negara’s renovation concept of “park at the zoo”.

Inside Exhibit Area

Inside Exhibit Area
Boston Fern
Water Lily
Yellow Walking Iris

Final Layout Design

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Panda Exhibit

I finally went inside the new panda exhibit! The other day when I was working with Ain, supervising some clearing of trees for a new lavatory, she asked me if I had been inside the new building yet, and we headed inside.

The building is the nicest building I have ever been to that was inside a zoo and is one of the nicest buildings I've seen overall. The whole building is shaped like an oval, and internally it is shaped like a U wrapped around 3/4 of an internal oval. The internal oval is the actual exhibit area for the pandas, while the U shaped portion contains the various veterinary rooms and offices, security surveillance rooms, conference rooms, and the tour areas focused on panda education. Most of the main construction has just recently been finished and a layer of dry wall dust still covers all the surfaces of the non-exhibit areas. Most of what the zoo staff is doing now consists of bringing in furniture, hand rails, lighting...the small stuff basically. They are also going through and testing the different systems that have been set up, including the security system, fire alarms, speakers and air conditioning, to name a few.

I wasn't able to take photos of the inside of the building, but the exhibit is impressive. Each panda has a half of the oval and the sides are separated by the raised visitor walkway. Each side has a waterfall going into a pond to reduce the noise from visitors so the pandas do not get startled, climbing platforms, ledges to climb the waterfall, a large grassy area, boulders, trees and , and a white boulder shaped object. I asked Ain about the white boulders in the middle of both sides and it turns out that those are cooling stones for the pandas to lie on, and they are white because they are currently covered in a layer of frost! That is one of the coolest things I've seen.

The entire room is really well put together. The landscaping uses some native species to the natural habitat of the pandas and is quite amazing looking. The pathways are patterned to look like stone and the railings look like bamboo. Working ornamental lanterns are hanging along the path and the floor has recessed lights. This new exhibit is sure to bring notoriety to Zoo Negara.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Forest for the Trees...

Tree starting to grow around tag
Excluding the palm trees and trees that have very small trunks, all of the trees in the zoo have a little metal tag nailed to their trunks with a corresponding number. Zoo Negara has a partnership with The World Wildlife Foundation and with The Forest Research Institute of Malaysia to keep track of all the native species of trees Zoo Negara has on the 110 acres, so these tags provide a way to keep track of them all.

With all of the new construction over the last couple years, many trees have had to be removed, which is still  a small percentage of all the trees on the total acreage of land. So one of the jobs I’ve had to do while being here has been to catalog all the trees’ tag numbers to have an updated list of trees present. Eza handed me one of the old official blueprints of the zoo, before all the construction and separated into 6 sections, and asked me to go around the entire land area of the zoo and write the tag numbers of the trees at their locations on the map. It took me a full two days to complete the task. By the end of the first day, I had only finished zone 6 and half of 5. Due to the quantity of trees,I was writing down a tag number every couple of feet in some areas. The clustering was so extensive in some places that I had to circle an entire area on the map, draw a line to one of the blank spaces, and list the numbers there because it was an impossibility for me to fit them in on the tiny spaces they corresponded to on the map. I thought it would have taken me three days to finish this, but some zones of the zoo have a lot of buildings and not as much of garden space as zone 6.

Other than the trees being removed, an update on the catalog had to be done for trees that were now large enough to receive a new tag number or for trees that had began to grow around their old tags and required a new one. Before this, Ain and I had gone around and removed the tags from the trees and nailed them back in with a new galvanized nail, and we saw at least 20 or so trees that had grown around their tags. Additionally we saw trees that were just missing tags, so all of those had to get new numbers.

The most difficult part of those two days was trying to figure out exactly where the trees should be labeled on the map, so they were as close to where their actual location is with all the new construction. Other than the large amount of trees, this was the reason it took me so long to get all the tag numbers labeled. The zoo layout has changed a bit since this blueprint was drawn up, so some of the roads didn’t exist before, and some roads on the map were no longer present because of new enclosures. Multiple times I was where new construction had been done and spent a good 5-10 minutes trying to figure out where on the map the new construction started in the area I had been labeling. I’d end up rotating the map multiple times to view the street from different angles, followed by walking back and forth comparing landmarks to where they were on the map. It also didn’t help that the chimpanzees were throwing sticks at me when I was near their enclosure. Looking for a tag on a tree, while keeping an eye on the chimpanzees, proved to be taxing.

Part of Zone 5

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Topiaries, Hedges and Propagation

Over the last month I've learned about the shaping and training of plants and about the different propagation techniques they use in the nursery.  Most of the time, on the days I've been working with Eza and/or the nursery women, we are doing some sort of propagation or trimming.

Topiaries and shaping/training plants is a fairly common practice in Malaysia and is used in many landscapes and for indoor greenery designs. In the zoo, the main shaping/ training done is into either hedges, formal and informal, or spherical topiary shape. Additionally, they have a couple of topiary structures where the plants have been trained into unique shapes or letters. The plants most commonly used in the zoo are the bougainvillea, box woods, Euodia ridleyi, and ixora varieties.
For large leafed plants, such as the bougainvillea and ixora, hand shears are used to shape them into informal shrubs. Hand shears are used instead of trimming shears or power trimming devices to prevent the browning that occurs when leaves are partially cut. When doing the formal shrubs smaller leafed plants are used like boxwood, and trimming shears or power trimming devices are used due to the small surface area of the leaves so if they are cut then the browning isn’t really evident.

Bougainvillea before
The boxwood and Euodia ridleyi are also used for topiaries. Depending on the degree of detail of the topiary they are either shaped by hand or by using a cage structure in the shape of the desired design. When doing sphereical topiary designs we used Euodia ridleyi and eyeballed the shape using hand shears for the trimming. The boxwood has a sturdier structure and is used for the more complicated designs and for the upright lettering.

The propagation that I've been involved in has been from dividing roots, and from taking cuttings. The propragation by root division was used often for the 51 varieties Zoo Negara has of Heliconias and for bamboo and ginger. The root divisions were mostly done when redoing the landscaping of an area and the old plants were removed and brought back to the nursery for repotting.
Bougainvillea after shaping
When doing the repotting, we would trim back the greenery and split the roots around where new plant growths were growing from the root system, using a machete, before placing into individual pots. For the propagation by cuttings, most of the cuttings are taken when doing the trimming and clean-up of the plants. After which, we took the trimmings to the potting area. Many of the plants I've worked with are runners, so when they’re clustered together they naturally expand into each other's pots during growth. The trimmings from these have root growth along the stems, and we cut below the roots along the stems and place them directly into new soil. For the trimmings that weren’t from runners, and didn’t have root growth on them, they were placed into liquid root stimulator for 15 minutes and then placed into the new soil.