Asian Highlands transports Zoo guests on an immersive journey through Asia, ranging from the grassland foothills of Northern India, through the Himalayan Mountains. Asian Highlands is set on a previously undeveloped eight acres inside Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium along the main path north of Simmons Aviary. The guest pathway totals 1,850 feet with 750 feet dedicated to animal viewing areas.
The symbolic entrance to Asian Highlands is a replica of a Himalayan ruin.
Red Panda, Crane and Tufted Deer
The journey begins along the southern foothills of the Himalayan Range where an abandoned hillside settlement has been overtaken by nature. Stone wall structures sit among temperate forests with firs, deciduous hardwoods, rhododendrons and bamboo dotting the landscape. This is the habitat of the red panda, the first animal species guests will encounter during their Asian Highlands experience. As guests continue along this trek, a stone gateway ruin creates a threshold to the forest and the beginning of their journey through the highland range.
A gently ascending forest path heads to the north. Guests viewing west get the first glimpse of the Asian plains habitats, including white-naped crane in the foreground and Pere David’s deer and Indian rhino roaming the grassland beyond. To the east, situated between the marshland and the montane region, is the damp deciduous and evergreen forest where guests see tufted deer. From the wide entry path, guests will have up-close and completely open viewing opportunities of both crane and tufted deer in a naturalistic habitat setting. As with all animal habitats, and tied to the Zoo’s mission to provide the highest level of animal care, various landscape elements such as rocks, trees, felled logs, water bodies, rolling terrain wallows, natural substrates and indoor and outdoor management areas are included in each area to simulate natural habitats and promote species-appropriate animal behavior and activity.
As the ascent continues, an old but active rail line passes overhead with only (what appears to be) an old, rusted steel trestle supporting the passenger train above. Emerging from the underpass, the path becomes narrow and the forest more dense. Guests will see the rushing stream which meanders through the natural valley around the mature canopy trees. After a few tight turns along the trail, off to the east is the sloth bear habitat, characterized by a grassy hillside with a dense deciduous forest beyond. A remnant village structure still stands along the habitat edge and provides a venue for closeup sloth bear training and animal behavior demonstrations. Guests will see sloth bear training that keepers use to help us improve their veterinary care. To help stimulate natural activities, the habitat itself will replicate the sloth bears’ natural range, including dry forest understory with rocky outcrops, rotting logs and grassy knolls along with sandy, grassy and rocky substrates. There are heated rocks within the habitat and both indoor and outdoor areas for the sloth bear.
To the west of the sloth bear hillside habitat is a natural valley landform with a grove of mature deciduous canopy trees and a dense understory of shrubs, smaller evergreen trees and mist blanketing the forest floor – the ideal setting for the Foggy Forest. This valley and relatively flat section of the trail creates a respite for guests, as well as an opportunity for kids to explore a series of foot paths with several nature-based play opportunities.
Foggy Forest is marked with a trailhead map that identifies life-like sculptures of key animals - including monal pheasant, masked civet, Himalayan pikas, Himalayan marmot, Bengal monitor and Chinese pangolin - that kids must seek out, creating their own adventure. There is 8,200 square feet of area for kids to explore, plus boulders to climb and logs to cross.
Approaching the summit of the Asian Highlands journey is the Amur tiger habitat. As guests continue the final ascent, a prominent centuries old Stupa emerges from the dense forest. The landscape changes due to the higher elevations and more coniferous trees appear characterizing the boreal forest range.
The Amur tiger now occupies the fringe of what was once a more densely developed section of the hillside settlement. The 13,000 square-foot habitat also marks the origin of a 440-foot valley stream. Several cascading waterfalls and weaving stream courses characterize what is now, Tiger Falls. The moving water creates an active and dynamic environment for the tigers, providing opportunities for splashing as well as resting. The stream will help the tigers keep cool during the summer days, while heated rocks will offer warmth on cool days. The primary settlement ruin includes glass panels to allow for guests and tigers to be inches away. To the west of the ruin is the tiger demonstration zone which allows 100 guests to sit comfortably in a mini-amphitheater setting to see animal enrichment demonstrations.
The off-exhibit, indoor tiger area offers 766 square feet of space and includes mulch floors, skylights and a heated floor pad. There is also 1,043 of outdoor off-exhibit space.
Located at the highest point of the site in a simulated sub-alpine ecological zone is the 3,094 square-foot snow leopard habitat. At this point guests have climbed 35 feet in elevation from the Gateway and have experienced the various landscape types and unique animal habitats ranging from the foothills of the Himalayas, up to the eastern range of the Tibetan Plateau.
A steep articulated rocky cliff face, simulating the natural rugged mountainous habitat in Central Asia, will characterize the snow leopard exhibit and will provide opportunities for climbing, leaping, resting and observing guests and other animals nearby. This habitat provides heated rocks for the snow leopards. A remnant shelter from the old hillside settlement remains and engages the edge of the habitat, which provides the opportunity for up-close snow leopard viewing as well as impromptu animal demonstrations.
The off-exhibit indoor snow leopard area offers 715 square feet of space, including a maternity den. This space offers mulch floors, skylights and a heated floor pad. There is 649 square feet of outdoor off-exhibit space.
Takin and Goral
One of the most unique habitat types within the Asian Highlands experience is the 17,884 square foot takin and goral alpine exhibit. From the low point of the stream to the top of the ridge, the habitat encompasses over 40 feet of elevation change creating a very realistic and dynamic environment for these animals that love to jump, climb and traverse near-vertical cliff faces.
Rolling grass hills, steep switchback talus slopes and rocky outcroppings will characterize the habitat, with mature trees dotting the landscape to provide shade during the warmer months of the year. A meandering 160-foot stream cuts through the foreground and will include shallow still zones to allow the animals to cool off and rest, all within very close proximity of the guest trail and viewing overlooks.
The off-exhibit indoor takin area includes 1,366 square feet of space with mulch floors, skylights and a heated floor pad. There are 1,648 square feet of outdoor off-exhibit space.
Themed after a Mount Everest basecamp in Nepal, and playfully named with a nod to the Tibetan folklore, the “Yeti” Camp will serve as the primary guest services hub with seating for 50 within the Asian Highlands experience. Just as guests begin their initial descent from the apex of the site, an opening in the sub-alpine forest will reveal what was once the village center of the old hillside settlement.
Although themed as a series of ruins, the camp will include modern amenities such as new restrooms (both men’s, women’s and family), a food and beverage trailer serving unique Asian inspired options and a retail cart offering a variety of gifts geared specifically to the Asian Highlands theme. Plenty of shade and informal seating options will be available, helping to create a true basecamp experience along the journey. Guests can rest and recharge before completing the trek back through the foothills down to the grassland plains.
Indian Rhino and Père David's Deer
As the storyline continues, guests descend into the grassland plains of northern India and southern Nepal, where they have a 180-degree panoramic view of the largest habitat in the Asian Highlands experience. Indian rhino and Pere David’s deer roam among a marshland made up of tall grasses, ephemeral streams, mud wallows and sand pits. Water eroded cut earth banks further define the character of the habitat and provide opportunities for scratching and rubbing. Large mature canopy trees provide shade during the hot summer months.
Pere David’s deer are at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium for the first time ever. In addition to sharing the large yard with Indian rhinos, they have a three-stall barn and an outdoor off-exhibit area. The Pere David’s deer have access to two large mud wallows, allowing them to cool off in warmer weather.
The new Indian rhino area includes a state-of-the-art 3,800 square-foot barn featuring four-foot deep mulch flooring, a scale, diet prep area and four stalls, one of which is an area to be used by animal care staff to perform veterinary procedures. The barn also has skylights, two overhead doors for fresh air, infrared heating, hydraulic doors, two points of entry to the outdoor areas and overhead showers that will help keep the rhinos’ skin moist during dry Nebraska winters. Attached to the barn is an outdoor off-exhibit patio area.
Two outdoor yards, one 3,200 square feet and another 21,500 square feet, will allow for both rhinos to be outside, but kept separate when needed. The rhinos rotate between the two yards, giving each the opportunity to enjoy both areas. Follow the edge of the grasslands habitat, with multiple viewing and artifact discovery opportunities along the way, ultimately completing the Asian Highlands journey and transect through central and northern Asia.