A Habitat Like Home San Antonio Zoo Jaguar Catwalk   |   San Antonio, Texas   |   175 LF

Habitat destruction is a threat to jaguars in the wild, and the San Antonio Zoo has worked with partners in Mexico to raise awareness on sharing the landscape with these large cats.

With the birth of Liam and Milan on September 6, 2016, the zoo had four of these beautiful and deadly animals to accommodate. Like any growing family, the San Antonio jaguars would need a larger home, and the Zoo saw an opportunity to work with Overland Partners to create not just a larger home, but a world-class habitat.

Boundless Power
Overland first encountered jaguars while working on the Imanta Resort in Punta Mita, Mexico. In the jungles of coastal Mexico, jaguars are a reality of daily life. The cats roam freely, leaving well-worn trails across the countryside between pools of waters, sheltering trees, and prime hunting spots. Jaguar jaws are some of the most powerful of all the large cats, and their predatory strategy is highly effective. To keep resort guests and the local jaguars safe, the Overland team relocated a watering hole that constantly drew the cats onto the Imanta property.
Habits and Habitats
Before the expansion, the zoo’s jaguar enclosure had been a rectangular area with very limited space for the cats to roam. Visitors, who flock to see the new family, have relatively limited viewing angles.When the zoo invited Overland Principal in Charge James Andrews behind the scenes to get a closer view of the cats, their power “sent chills down my spine,” he said.
With the expansion Overland saw the potential to increase public appreciation of the jaguars, by watching them in a larger, more varied habitat where the cats would climb, prowl, pounce, and play more freely.
Beautiful Geometry

With the Imanta watering hole experience in mind, the team was able to create a similar oasis at the zoo. Intended to trigger the captive jaguars’ instincts, it draws them into a new section of their enclosure.While the redesign of the original enclosure and the new oasis will be all about recreating natural habitats, an overhead bridge connecting the two spaces will be the true showpiece. The bridge is designed to mimic a pathway through the tree canopy, but with unprecedented visibility for visitors.

Keeping zookeepers and other animals safe required a careful series of gates, and bird-proof netting as the jaguars pass through the zoo’s exotic aviary.

On the bridges, Overland used highly specified materials, and precisely balanced elements to make the security elements both impenetrable and invisible so that the bridges appear to float elegantly over the human pathways. On the walkway, rather than a fiberglass tube (making the structure feel like a hamster tunnel) the undulating bridge will be clad in netting, supported by a cable running the length of the walkway. Without a solid barrier, visitors get the thrill of proximity, as if the jaguars were almost on the loose.

The surface of the walkway also presented opportunities to innovate. Any metal would have gotten too hot in the San Antonio sun, while traditional wood planks would have deteriorated with the clawing and gnawing of the animals. The firm’s solution, a fiberglass product molded to resemble the texture of bark, creates a comfortable grip for the cats that is durable and easy to maintain for the zookeepers.

Being Home
The San Antonio Zoo’s mission is to inspire its community to love, engage with, act for and protect animals and places they live through its passion and expertise in animal care, conservation, and education. This includes creating environments that are welcoming and contribute to well-being for the animals that it homes, many of which are rescued or rehabilitated. For the jaguar family—Arizona, B’alam, and their two cubs, Liam and Milan—the Jaguar habitat expansion offers a closer environment to the natural habitat of their wild cousins and allows them to instinctively feel more at home.