Home, Sweet (Temporary) Home
Many of the animal residents of Upland Tropical Rain Forest made a temporary transition to our Animal Care and Rescue Center while the exhibit's 684 panes of glass are being replaced.
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The glass pyramid topping our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit has been a primary fixture of Baltimore's skyline since the Aquarium opened in 1981—but there's currently a temporary new addition to this iconic structure in the form of one very tall, 400-ton crane. Workers have been replacing all 684 panes of glass in the rain forest pyramid as part of a project that kicked off in March.
As the aging glass is being replaced with new-and-improved, energy-efficient panes, the exhibit has been closed to the public and the animal residents of Upland Tropical Rain Forest have been temporarily relocated. From turtles and fishes to birds and sloths, nearly 400 animals were moved from the exhibit. Some of these animals were moved to backup spaces in Upland Tropical Rain Forest and Australia: Wild Extremes until construction is complete, but the majority were moved to the National Aquarium's Animal Care and Rescue Center (ACRC) in the nearby neighborhood of Jonestown.
Before the moving process could begin, the rain forest team evaluated the spaces available and considered the needs of each animal to determine which space would be the best fit for their care and welfare.
The process of moving the animals began in January. The team took a top-down approach, first relocating the animals that tend to spend their time in the treetops of the exhibit. This included the Linne's two-toed sloths, scarlet ibis and boat-billed heron, among others.
Meanwhile, animals that are recall trained—including amphibians, birds and mammals that respond to specific cues—were left on exhibit for as long as possible to ensure guests could continue to see and enjoy them before the exhibit was officially closed.
All animals were removed from the exhibit by the time the glass replacement project began in March. The transfer was a true team effort, with staff across multiple departments coordinating the transfer of rain forest animals to their new temporary homes.
The transfer of turtles—which were placed in containers for their journey to the ACRC—kicked off in January. They were among the first animals to be transferred to their new temporary home.
Once in Jonestown, turtles were placed in tanks that are typically used for new Aquarium arrivals undergoing their quarantine process. Some of these pools are also used for animals that need to come off exhibit—either temporarily or permanently—for a host of reasons.
Aquarium aviculturists used handheld poles to guide the macaws out of the exhibit. Aimee Milarski moved scarlet macaw Billy while Kirby Pitchford transported blue and gold macaw Charlie.
Both birds were moved to the Animal Care and Rescue Center in January. According to Assistant Curator Deb Dial, the exciting experience of temporarily being in a new space has been beneficial for Billy and Charlie.
"Although it's a unique situation, many of the animals have enjoyed some of the novel experiences of the move," said Deb. "The macaws, the blue-headed pionus and the sun conure have all been exposed to new things to chew, climb, shake, crush, crinkle and jump on."
A total of 308 fish—representing four different species—were moved out of the rain forest exhibit. Aquarists carefully extracted them from their tanks using nets, and then placed them in sturdy, water-filled bins for transport.
The containers were then loaded onto vehicles for the short, half-mile drive to the Animal Care and Rescue Center.
"The staff at the ACRC were more than happy to welcome the rain forest animals into their temporary digs. Some of them had spent time here in the past, but for the majority it was a new environment. They have all settled in nicely and we are excited to utilize this beautiful off-site space to support the rain forest glass replacement project."
Having the rain forest animals off-exhibit has allowed opportunities for research, routine medical exams and preventative health care. In March, the smooth-sided toads from Upland Tropical Rain Forest received eye exams as part of an ophthalmic study, the goal of which is to establish what a normal, healthy eye looks like in this species. Veterinary Fellow Sarah Balik—the lead Aquarium staff member for the study—explains: "Unfortunately, ocular issues are quite common in amphibians, so understanding the 'normal' of each species can help veterinarians diagnose and ultimately treat conditions ranging from infections to glaucoma."
This study is the first of its kind—there have been no other studies describing the morphology of eyes in smooth-sided toads. We partnered with veterinarian of ophthalmology Dr. Micki Armour to conduct the study; here, she's using a device called a slit lamp to magnify the toad's eye, allowing her to more easily view the anatomy of the eye and identify any potential disease.
"Having these animals all in one place at the ACRC was the perfect opportunity to conduct a study like this. Normally, these animals are free-roaming in Upland Tropical Rain Forest and therefore, we are not able to conduct exams on them frequently."
In May, the Linne's two-toed sloths received radiographs, weight checks and nail trims.
The sloths' nails are trimmed regularly to ensure that they can navigate the trees in their exhibit effectively and efficiently.
"Managing the animals' care during the glass replacement has been an interesting puzzle to solve. With so many variables to consider, the rain forest husbandry team has had to carefully craft a strategy to ensure every animal continues to receive the best care regardless of their physical location. The team considered their needs, made a plan for their transitional environments and, in many cases, the animals are still able to spend a lot of time with familiar keepers."
The new glass will better control temperatures inside the exhibit for a more comfortable experience for both animals and guests. It will also feature permanent etching to deter migratory bird strikes. The original glass will be upcycled and repurposed, finding new life as materials for major roadways and fiberglass insulation.
Once all the glass is replaced, the exhibit will once again be ready for residents and guests. The reopening is slated for the fall; until then, the animals will continue to receive the same level of exemplary care at the ACRC and in the back-of-house areas of Australia: Wild Extremes and Upland Tropical Rain Forest as they do when they're on-exhibit.
Our many thanks to our partners Design Collective, Plano-Coudon and Super Sky, as well as the State of Maryland, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, the Abell Foundation, the corporate community and our philanthropic partners for their generous support of the glass replacement project.
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