To enter a cypress swamp is to experience a world of sunlight and shadows, the silence of a white ibis wading in still water as it fishes or the noise of a great egret defending its territory. When visitors enter the Edward K. Love Conservation Foundation Cypress Swamp, they will enter a world both mysterious and mesmerizing.
The Zoo’s immersion exhibit showcases 16 species of North American birds – from the roseate spoonbill and yellow-crowned night heron to the snowy egret and double-crested cormorant - that thrive in cypress swamps along the Mississippi River. The swamps of southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois are wetlands, carved out by the meandering Mississippi over thousands of years.
What makes a swamp a swamp? Swampland is covered by water for all or part of the year. It supports trees and shrubs, as well as the majestic cypress tree. Cypress trees can survive in standing water because their roots, or "knees," grow straight up out of the water. Some scientists think the cypress knees help the roots to breathe. Others say the knees, together with the trees' swollen trunks, help anchor the trees below the water. Swamps are wetlands, but they are not wastelands. Healthy swamps are full of life, both above and below the water’s surface. Swamps are vitally important because thousands of animal species rely on swamps at some point in their lives, whether it’s as a “nursery” where youngsters get their start, a permanent home or a place through which they migrate.
At the Saint Louis Zoo's new exhibit, a winding pathway transports visitors to a floating bridge and viewing pier. Hardwoods, shrubs, aquatic plants and cypress snags are planted lushly along the way. Pools and rock outcroppings complete the natural habitat. This splendid new exhibit teaches people to appreciate local environments and animal species, specifically birds.
The shift in focus to indigenous aquatic birds will allow the 1904 World’s Fair Flight Cage, still one of the world’s largest, to display more cold-hardy birds year- round. Also, non-public bird holding areas will provide winter holding for certain species of birds and will aid in the Zoo’s ongoing conservation efforts.
Commemorating the Saint Louis Zoo’s Beginning
The Saint Louis Zoo traces its origins to the 1904 World’s Fair and in 2004 commemorated the centennial of the Fair with this dramatic new transformation of the 1904 Flight Cage.
The Smithsonian Institution commissioned the Flight Cage for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and intended to move it to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. following the Fair. But St. Louisans rallied to keep the Flight Cage intact, and the City of St. Louis soon purchased it for $3,500 (the structure had originally cost $17,500 to construct). Within a few short years, it served as the impetus for St. Louis to develop a full-fledged zoo – the first municipally supported zoo in the world.
Creation of the cypress swamp was the Zoo’s third renovation of the Flight Cage. In 1996, the Zoo restored the super-structure of the birdcage, and before that in 1967, the interior of the flight cage was remodeled to include a boardwalk.