The seven orangutans of the Toronto Zoo now have a playspace made just for them. They get to swing from poles and cables connecting the two habitats the make up their home, climb through chute-like enclosures and take a break on the platforms nestled into their vertical landscape. Designed by local firm Zeidler Architecture in collaboration with Jones & Jones Architects + Landscape Architects, this marks the first dedicated outdoor space for orangutans since the zoo opened in 1974.

Landscaped and built up to feel (to its adorable denizen apes) like Borneo, where the majority of the world’s orangutans live, the outdoor realm is named Orangutans of Gunung Leuser, Guardians of the Rainforest, after the Leuser National Park in Indonesia. Bursting with plant life, the project features structures conceived to emulate natural tree canopies – with expressive, leaf-like shades – and a peak-roofed gazebo that makes for a rambunctious gathering spot.

Altogether, the layout was strategically imagined to support the primates’ natural movement, with cables connecting every perch. The two habitat areas – named simply Habitat 1 and Habitat 2 – connect to an existing indoor habitat in the zoo’s Indo-Malaya Pavilion. Measuring 1,210 square metres, Habitat 1 features climbing structures and towers as well as hills and streams, while Habitat 2 features a dramatic 45-metre span between two climbing structures.

Visitors to the zoo get to observe and get up close and personal with the orangutans in several features – and kids also get to mimic them in a climbable children’s playground. In the Research Station, they can stand by as behavioural scientists study the animals and “learn more about sustainable practices that support the conservation of the orangutans’ natural habitat,” the architects explain.

Human engagement is of paramount importance in raising conservationist awareness. “Orangutans are a critically endangered species,” says Edward Chan, a partner at Zeidler. “Their rainforest homes are quickly disappearing because of unsustainable palm oil production, logging, mining, and more. With Jones & Jones, we designed the outdoor habitat to enliven the physical, social, and intellectual needs — and ultimately enrich the lives — of the orangutans, while keeping research, education, and visitor experience top of mind.”

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