Launch - Make a Splash - November 2018


The Philadelphia Zoo’s new 33-foot-long water slide for its otters has become an exciting attraction for the animals and guests. (Credit: Tom Hartman)

Otters Make Waves On Water Slide

 by Mike Bederka

Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia Zoo made quite the splash with its new feature: a 33-foot-long water slide for its new “Water Is Life: Red Panda Pass and Otter Falls” exhibit.

“It’s one of our biggest guest wows when the otters zip down and plunge into that pool,” says Dr. Andy Baker, chief operating officer. “The oohs and aahs tell the story.”

The water slide has helped to turn a relatively quiet section of the zoo into a bustling, social media-friendly spot, says Baker, noting the piece became the latest addition to the venue’s Zoo360 animal trail system. Now, the two pairs of giant otters can access three habitats for different views, added exercise, and extra attention from the gathering crowds as they scamper up and down the slide.

“It really takes that exhibit and makes it even more interactive,” says Bart Deeg, president of Edmonton, Canada-based Aquatics by Westwind, a North American distributor for Polin Waterparks, which produced the slide. “It adds a whole new dimension.”

While Deeg’s company specializes in niche projects and unique water slide requests, he says Aquatics by Westwind had never worked with a zoo, until now.

Along with Philly-based CLR Design, the company designed and installed the translucent, acrylic 36-inch-wide piece—a common width for open flume body slides.

“You could go down the slide,” Deeg says. “It’s perfectly suitable for people.”

The zoo specifically sought an aesthetically pleasing slide that felt organic in the space visible from the main path, Baker explains. “We didn’t want it to look too toy-like, but it needed enough color to make it pop a little bit.”

The otters quickly took to their new form of entertainment when it debuted in May, Baker says. These carnivorous creatures can’t navigate ladder rungs easily, so the zoo installed a series of boulder steps to help them reach the slide start at 10-feet elevation. More times than not, though, they walk up the curved slide and then turn around at the top, before rushing down into the pool below. The otters also sometimes just balance and goof around on the slide’s edge to the crowd’s delight.

Based on this unique attraction’s success, Deeg plans to connect with zoos around North America and share the Philadelphia story. 

Baker says he doesn’t know of many other zoos that have added a similar custom-built water slide; however, he believes water slides could become a popular component elsewhere, too.

In fact, down the line, Baker says the zoo may increase the footprint for the otters and add more slides, as well as create similar water play opportunities for other animals, such as penguins. The animals benefit from the extra activity, and importantly, he believes it follows the zoo’s mission to connect animals and guests.

“We hear a lot of kids say they want to be on that otter slide,” Baker laughs.