Creative thinking at Knowsley Safari Park leads to new fencing practices

Staff at Knowsley finds cost saving solution to separate baboons from exiting traffic, while improving interaction between staff and animals.

The staff at Knowsley Safari Park know the difficulties involved in handling and containing dangerous park animals - Difficulties that are common to most zoos and safari parks. They also know that traditional equipment is not always capable of solving the challenges that arise e.g. when attempting to let vehicles pass gates, but not the animals.

HMJ-Design RubberFence barrier

The challenges grow exponentially when dealing with animals that are both dangerous and intelligent, represented best by the problems experienced within their drive-through baboon enclosure, inhabited by some 250 individuals. Being deft escape artists, the animals are constantly exploring weaknesses in the fencing system, and once a weakness is found it is communicated swiftly to all members of the flock. More often than not, the baboons will hitch a ride on the car roofs, to be carried across the electric fence grid at the exit gate. Countering this behaviour normally requires two staff to supervise the gates during opening hours, which increases the risk of animal-staff confrontation, and is also a significant draw on financial resources and man power.

"The rubber wire uses can stretch as far as the creative mind can use them, and being affordable means it’s allowed us to put our designs into reality, while being easy and discreet on the eye." 

-Stuart Robertson, Animal Manager

HMJ Design, supplier to more than 200 zoos worldwide, was recently granted distributorship of a Danish invention for electric fencing called Rubberfence. What sets this product apart from other wire types is that it is made from a hard rubber with a thin copper core. The rubber is full of carbon particles, which gives the wire an extremely low electrical resistance. In practise, this means that the wire is very difficult to short out, and that it will therefore continue to deliver shocks even in adverse conditions. This, in combination with the non-abrasive rubber surface, means that there are potentially many new applications for which the product could be used.

 HMJ Design wanted to explore these potential uses for the product in a real-world setting, and Knowsley seemed the perfect place to do so, as the park is committed to finding better solutions to animal welfare, to issues that represent hazards to staff and visitors, and to finding financially viable practices.

 Knowsley Animal Manager Stuart Robertson were given free hands to experiment with the products, and after six months using different types of test installations reached the following conclusion:

“The wire has been a incredible product to use: It’s versatile, easy to apply and can also help in a quick fix situation where hot wires have been required. It’s extremely durable and has even been applied instead of other traditional materials, like binding wire and other commonly used wires for running electric current through. The uses have proven successful through varied designs and with multiple species, from enforcing cattle grids to our new baboon curtain, which allows vehicles to pass through and form a barrier for our baboons to not pass over our current safety mats.

 The rubber wire uses can stretch as far as the creative mind can use them and being affordable means it’s allowed us to put our designs into reality, while being easy and discreet on the eye with its dark color.”

The same technology is also available in a different form factor, Rubberguard, namely a 20 x 0,35 meter rubber mat which conducts electricity on the front side, but is insulated on the backside. This being an even more radical departure from the conventional concept of electrical fencing, testing this product was also necessary to determine how zoos can use it.

Stuart Robertson continues: “The matting has surprised everyone with its ability to stand up to rigorous vehicles traveling over it, and also how it operates at a high standard throughout the changing weather conditions. It’s very easy to install and can be used in multiple ways, outside of just creating ground surfaces to deter animals away from. It’s maintenance free once installed, and creates a neat and discreet area where electric currents can be applied”.

The partnership between Knowsley Safari Park and HMJ Design will continue, and a diverse range of findings have already been made, resulting in concepts which both parties hope to disseminate to the wider zoo and safari park community.

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By Mikkel Ravn, Sales Manager at HMJ Design