Asia Exhibit is Branching Out as New Residents Take Root

Norfolk, VA (MAY 25, 2010) – The Virginia Zoo is welcoming some huge new residents to its Asia exhibit. It’s not orangutans or tapirs yet. The first new living residents are trees. Over 106,000 pounds of trees are being planted Wednesday afternoon, May 26. The first trees are expected to be placed around 12:30 p.m.

These are mature trees, not saplings – weighing up to 15,000 pounds each. A planting project this big requires more than a shovel and trowel. The Zoo is bringing in special equipment, including a 90 ton crane and a huge piece of heavy equipment called a tree spade.

“We need to get the landscaping firmly established before we can bring in the animals,” explains Greg Bockheim, executive director. “These trees will do more than look pretty; they create a more comfortable habitat for the animals. Planting these trees is like installing air conditioners in the homes of the gibbons, otters, tapirs and binturong.”

The Zoo will be planting crepe myrtles in those animal exhibits. The smallest tree is 15 feet tall. Most of the trees are 25 to 30 feet tall. Large Sweet gum, tulip trees, lace bark elms and zelkova trees already have been planted in the siamang habitat.

“All of these trees were selected because they grow well in our area and are non-toxic, so they won’t hurt the animals,” says Bockheim. “They will provide shade and entertainment – by giving the animals substantial trees to climb on, while also enhancing the look of the exhibits for visitors.”

The mature trees have been grown at a local nursery in Chesapeake. Moving them is a complex process, and the Zoo has engaged a Maryland-based company that specializes in large tree moving.

The tree movers used a huge piece of heavy equipment, called a tree spade. They not only dug the holes at the Zoo, they drove to Chesapeake to remove the trees from the nursery and then carry them one by one to the Zoo in preparation for planting. The 90-ton crane will lift the tree into the hole for planting. Once they’re safely in the ground, the Zoo’s horticulture staff will care for the plants with lots of mulch and water.

“It’s exciting to see these exhibits come together,” says Bockheim, “and to watch a talented team work to create a great home for the Asian animals.”