Lowry Park Zoo Visit
On February 15 I visited Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo with a keen eye looking for accomplishments and improvements to be made in the water conservation, waste reduction, and plastic elimination areas. The very first stop I made was in their cafeteria at the entrance of the park. This is where most of my information comes from, as it was the most capable to make change. I walked in believing that LPZ was one of the AZA-accredited zoos that had eliminate its use of plastic bottles, I was wrong. There were far more than I cared to see. Not only was there bottled water for sale, but there were also bottled sodas. Some of these sodas were the same kind that can be purchased at the fountain dispenser just a few feet away. Getting rid of bottled beverages that can be purchased using the fountain as well as bottled water would be my first recommendation for the LPZ. At Monterey Bay Aquarium they implemented this change and while at first it sounds daunting, removing bottled water, there are easy alternatives, particularly in the way of boxed water. Also, encouraging people to bring their own water bottles and using the water fountains found around the park would be beneficial.
On the bright side, I did ask one of the workers in the cafeteria if they had gotten rid of the use of plastic tops and straws for the fountain drinks. She informed me that yes, they had, for the safety of the animals. This was great to hear, as these do often end up in the enclosures and can make the animals sick, but it was also great from a sustainability point of view— less plastic! Her mention of “for the animals” also directly applies to wildlife as well. Plastic straws are one of the plagues of the environment in terms of solid waste pollution. Also great to see was that on their plastic utensil dispenser was a message about sustainability and recycling these items after they’ve been used. The same message was on the napkin dispenser as well. Two other waste reduction techniques that I appreciated at the zoo were the lack of paper towels in the restrooms, and their repurposing of materials for enrichment devices for the animals. They had just received Valentines Day treats and many of these were made from repurposed materials. I encourage them to continue this behavior, which I believe they already to.
Water conservation is a tricky subject for the zoo, as they have a manatee rehab hospital that runs on plenty of chlorinated water every day. Because they are a non-profit and very conservation-minded, they do make smart choices in attempts to reduce their water footprint, but it is simply difficult at such a large operation with live animals that demand fresh water. I did see room for improvement with their water irrigation system. They had standard sprinklers which I would recommend replacing with a drip-irrigation system. Since they exhibits are almost all outdoors and subject to the elements, their plants should be sufficiently watered this way. Also, this means that some of the animals that depend on water pools and such in their exhibit get this water naturally, a huge plus!
Overall, I think Lowry Park Zoo does a good job, but there is room for improvement, particularly in terms of plastic reduction. Here are some pictures from my visit: