Have you Herd? We’re all set to complete work on UK’s largest elephant house

We’re on target to complete work on one of our most exciting projects this year in time for a summer opening.

Project Elephant at Blackpool Zoo opens this summer and incorporates one of the UK’s largest indoor elephant enclosures, as well as a 2-acre enriched landscaped outdoor area. The specially designed building, for which we helped to create a state of the art modern home for some of the zoo’s best-loved residents.

Working closely with Blackpool Zoo’s directors and specialist keepers, as well as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) guidelines, our team have been working on the project for almost a year creating an environment that will encourage the elephant herd to thrive, as well as designing an exciting exhibit for visitors.

Blackpool Zoo is a leading tourist attraction in the North West and the elephants are always a favourite with visitors.  Project Elephant has been one of the zoo’s most ambitious projects, and the newly designed enclosure has been created to accommodate the not only the immense size and weight of the elephant herd but also the animal’s natural intelligence and curiosity.

The elephant house itself is by far the zoo’s largest structure (2000 metres sq.) and has been constructed to comfortably house 10 Asian elephants reaching a height of 3 metres.

The house comprises 5 pens including a viewing pen and walkway for visitors, a care pen for sick animals, a bull elephant pen and a hay store. Outdoors the enclosure features a pool and wet area, surrounded by landscaped paddocks for the animals to roam. The keeper’s office is located above the enclosure with vehicle access and allows keepers a 360° view of the animals.

Nigel Huish commented:

“This has been a really interesting project to have been involved with – elephants present some very unique design challenges! The sheer scale of the structure has challenged our designers to think big! – this along with prioritising animal and visitor welfare has really inspired some innovative design solutions from our team.

Sustainability was a key factor in the design of the enclosure but posed a logistical challenge – the enclosure needed to minimize the amount of surface water, however, elephants love splashing, so our team had come up with a solution that worked on both counts.

As such, one of the enclosure’s special features has been the 55,000 litre water tank which is filled with harvested rainwater and recycled water, the water supply is used to top up the pool, clean and to dampen the sand – a unique sprinkler system has also been installed to hose and bath the animals, giving them ample opportunity to splash!”

Another consideration has been reinforcing the foundations to accommodate the size and weight of the animals, at least 1 metre of sand on has been laid on top of the concrete layers below the surface to create a strong base.

The team has also had to plan for the accessibility of ongoing maintenance work to the pens and needed to moderate the amount of access that would be needed by engineers.

In order to minimize entrance requirements and to ensure minimal disruption to the animals, service hubs such as the electricity room have been set against an external wall, while lights and heating panels have been installed on the same level as the gantry to reduce the need to access the pens.

One of the main challenges from a design perspective has been to conceal and protect the building and facilities equipment, keeping it out of the animal’s reach and out of sight – given their natural curiosity. To address this all of the building systems have been fitted high up in the building.

Temperature has also been a big consideration. Within the house, a constant 20°C is maintained through a radiant panel heating system, and in the enclosure for sick animals temperature is kept at 22°C. A heated water trough has also been fitted to prevent terminal shock by ensuring drinking water is a constant mild temperature.