Last autumn, America’s first zoo decided it was time to do some house cleaning of its 42 acres. While none of the Philadelphia Zoo’s 1,300-plus animals were affected, officials were looking to make a bigger point about the use of recycled, reduced, reused, repurposed and renewed materials.
“This past Nov. 18 we shut down the zoo for a full day and did some rethinking of our own with our own big campus clean up,” said Vikram H. Dewan, Philadelphia Zoo president and CEO. “When the entire community got together we disposed of 53 tons of accumulation — 40 tons of which we recycled. We took that important step and look forward to continuing to sharing our recycling program with all of you. The big campus cleanup was more than a weight loss program as you can tell; it was actually a tangible demonstration of our commitment to the environment, our planet and this wonderful place at 34th and Girard that we call home.”
This week, the zoo unveils “Second Nature,” an unconventional new art exhibit that tells stories of endangered animals through the use of recycled, reduced, reused, repurposed and renewed materials. Second Nature unleashes the creative imaginations of 12 renowned artists, who have expertly crafted animal-inspired sculptures from unlikely items including burned-out spark plugs, recycled plastic bottles, cardboard boxes and wads of chewing gum.
Second Nature features the work of world-renowned artists, including Don Kennell, Cracking Art Group, Flux Foundation, Laurence Vallieres, Diem Chau, Aurora Robson, Ann Smith Larson, James Corbett, Diet Wiegman, Maurizio Savini, Leo Sewell and Gerry Ellis, nature and wildlife photographer and recipient of the zoo’s Global Conservation.
Ultimately, the exhibition will engage zoo visitors in the small things humans can do to make a world of difference for wildlife and habitats. During a midweek press preview, Cindy Adams Dunn, acting secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said: “I feel the Philadelphia Zoo is a critical element in opening people’s minds to making the connections that help preserve our planet and the State of Pennsylvania. Their work is critical to Pennsylvania and way beyond.
“Diminished natural resources are a worldwide problem, but also a problem here in Pennsylvania,” Dunn added. “From our native threatened species like the Indiana bat to our native, iconic Pennsylvania species, our state tree, the Eastern hemlock, to our state fish, the Brook trout and our state flower, the Mountain Laurel, and our state bird, the ruffed grouse — all of these [have] challenges in today’s environment.
“While they are still common, climate change, invasive species, development pressures, etc., threaten Pennsylvania’s ecology,” Dunn continued. “Second Nature is a great way to have people think about our natural resources, so not only is it a reuse of junk through an obvious thing like the help with litter, but it prevents the need for additional quarries, landfill space and the so many things in our environment by taking the first step … With 1.3 million visitors per year, the Philadelphia Zoo’s impact on Philadelphia and beyond is critical.”
From a totemic 13-foot-tall blue gorilla sculpted entirely of recycled car parts to a menacing 8-foot-long crocodile molded from chewing gum, each of the artistic installations will forge a connection between human behavior and animal endangerment through works of art.
“We are pleased to host such amazing and thought-provoking works of art for Second Nature,” added Dewan. “Many of these pieces are larger than life-sized interpretations of species future generations of zoo visitors may never see if we don’t take steps to preserve [their] habitat. Yes, this will certainly be a spectacle of magnificent, colorful art work throughout the zoo, but it’s also a reminder — one that everyone can understand — that there are many ways to reduce, reuse and recycle to positively impact wildlife. The artists participating in Second Nature are some of the world’s most creative conservation heroes.”
Second Nature runs from April 11 — Oct. 31. For more information, or to purchase zoo tickets, visit PhiladelphiaZoo.org.