Idom Merebrook to complete UK’s largest Elephant house

13 June 2017 | By James Kenny

Engineering and environmental consultancy Idom Merebrook is putting the finishing touches to one of the largest indoor elephant enclosures in the UK.

“Project Elephant” is a £2.5m project due to open this July at Blackpool Zoo and is part of a £5m redevelopment programme. It is part of the zoo’s 45th anniversary and will open up three acres at the site and help visitors get a closer view of the endangered species.

As well as a two-acre enriched landscaped outdoor area, Idom Merebrook helped to create a state-of-the-art modern home for some of the zoo’s best-loved residents.

With Blackpool Zoo’s directors and specialist keepers, the team at Idom Merebrook has been working within Association of Zoos and Aquariums guidelines for almost a year creating an environment that will encourage the elephant herd to thrive, as well as designing an exciting exhibit for visitors.

The enclosure has been created to accommodate 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 the zoo’s largest structure at 2,000 sq m and has been constructed to house 10 Asian elephants, which reach a height of 3m.

The house comprises five 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 and allows keepers a 360 degree view of the animals.

One of the main challenges of the project has been reinforcing the foundations to accommodate the size and weight of the animals – at least 1m of sand 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.

To minimise 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.

Another issue 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.

Nigel Huish, managing director, Idom Merebrook, commented: “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 minimise the amount of surface water, however elephants love splashing, so our team had to come up with a solution that worked on both counts.

“As such, one of the enclosure’s special features has been the 55,000l water tank which is filled from 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!"


Elephants generally live in family herds that do not comprise adult males. Bull elephants live solitary lives, occasionally forming small groups with other males and only interactng with females during mating season. These elephants should have never been put in any zoo. It is unnatural and they can not live a normal life. They should not be exposed to close human contact. They are not pets. This structure recognises that they are in the wrong part of the world. They do not need houses in the wild! The space available to them is miniscule compared to their area of roaming and enrichment attempts can never even come close to that in their native habitat.As far as breeding is concerned, female elephants choose their partners just as humans do. Artificial inseminatio will be the only way to procurate, and give the zoo poor calves born in prison to a unnatural life full of gaping tourists. These animals need a sanctuary far from humans where people can only see them as they do in the wild, on safari. Asian elephants like African elephants need to be treated with empathy for who they are, not what they can bring in revenue!
I applaud the attempt to offer these poor creatures bigger prison cells, but a zoo will never be the right place for these intelligent, social animals.

Anne Nagy, 13 June 2017

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