ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge
Exhibition Week

Presented by Flint Hills Resources

March 6-10, 2023

The ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge offers students in grades 3-12 a chance to develop a solution to a real problem faced by zookeepers and staff at the Minnesota Zoo. This year, students were challenged to apply their science and math knowledge, creativity, and problem-solving skills to engineer an innovative enrichment or exhibit design solution for the Minnesota Zoo’s Malayan Tapirs.

Of the 5200+ students that developed over 1600 enrichment and exhibit design solutions, only 24 virtual projects and 100 in-person at the Zoo projects were chosen to advance to give students the opportunity to present their design solutions to Zoo staff and Flint Hills Resources engineers during the ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge Exhibition week.

Best of luck to all ZOOMS student engineer presenters!

Congratulations to all of the ZOOMS Exhibition Week Award Winners!

Virtual Awards

Elementary School Awards

Middle School Awards

High School Awards

Welcome to the ZOOMS Design Challenge Exhibition!

A special message from John Frawley, Director of the Minnesota Zoo & President of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation.

A special message from Geoff Glasrud, Vice President And Manufacturing Manager at Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend Refinery.

ZOOMS Exhibition Week Schedule

March 6

Virtual ZOOMS Exhibition Day
Virtual Judging
9:40 am – 2:20 pm
Awards announced Friday!

March 7

Elementary ZOOMS Exhibition Zoo Day
Awards Ceremony 1:45pm -2:15pm

March 8

Middle School ZOOMS Exhibition Zoo Day
Awards Ceremony
1:45pm -2:15pm

March 9

High School ZOOMS Exhibition Zoo Day
Awards Ceremony
1:45pm -2:15pm

March 10

Virtual and In Person ZOOMS Exhibition Award Winners announced on website

Student Project Gallery

Check out the innovative enrichment and exhibit design ideas that students developed for the Minnesota Zoo’s Malayan tapirs this year!

Elementary Schools

Middle Schools

High Schools

ZOOMS Exhibition Participating Schools

Elementary (Grades 3-5)

Eden Lake Elementary
Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion
Highwood Hills
Southview Elementary
Cedar Ridge Elementary
196 online
Rochester Public School Online
Bailey Elementary
Woodcrest Spanish Immersion
Polk County Paws and Pals 4-H Club
Avail Academy
All Saints Academy
Eastview Elementary
Cedar Park STEM School
Carondelet Catholic School
DaVinci Academy
Forest Hills Elementary
Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School
Highlands Elementary
Independence Elementary STEM School
Lakeview Elementary
La Ola Del Lago
Prairie View Elementary
Holy Spirit School
Garlough Environmental Magnet School
St. Jude of the Lake
Woodland Elementary
Valley Crossing Elementary

Middle School (Grades 6-8)

St. Jude of the Lake
Polk County Paws and Pals 4-H Club
Cottage Grove Middle School
Carondelet Catholic School
Zimmerman Middle School
Highland Park Middle School
Lake Ann Academy – Home School
Davinci Academy
Owatonna Middle School
St. Jude of the Lake
Century Middle School
E-STEM Middle School

High School (Grades 9-12)

SPPS Online High School
CHOICE Technical Academy
School of Environmental Studies
Cretin-Derham Hall

About the ZOOMS Design Challenge

Tapir Exhibit Design Challenge

The endangered Malayan tapir species from Southeast Asia has been found at the Zoo since it opened in 1978. With fewer than 3,000 left in the wild, the Zoo’s commitment to conservation and care for these animals has been critical, with the successful births of 10 tapir calves!

While there have been small habitat changes in the 40+ years, exhibit planners and zookeepers are hoping this space might be reimagined to better accommodate the fluctuating numbers of tapirs in the Zoo’s care. They are also hoping a new design will provide distinct areas in the habitat offering the current three tapirs more choices for interactivity or privacy based on current challenges that exist due to their nocturnal nature, zig zag feeding behavior for browse, exhibit rotation schedule, and their swimming abilities. Similarly, due to their endangered status, the Zoo hopes to make visitors feel connected to the tapirs, learn about the threats they face in the wild, and take action to help this incredible species!

Enrichment Design Challenge

The Minnesota Zoo is known for its expertise when it comes to caring for and managing the Zoo’s three Malayan tapirs. Bertie (female) has successfully birthed several tapir calves, including 4-year-old female Indah and 2.5-year-old male Tuah, who is now roaming the habitat separate from his mom. Due to the unique needs of these nocturnal and highly tactile animals, they often must alternate their time with one another on the habitat which requires consideration of logistics and a higher level of creativity when planning enrichments.

Therefore, Zookeepers are looking for enrichment ideas that help keep the Malayan tapirs engaged and curious in both on and off exhibit spaces while also encouraging natural behaviors such as swimming and foraging with their prehensile trunk. By helping to provide optimal care through tailored enrichment for each tapir, the Zoo ultimately hopes to ensure Malayan tapirs as a species can thrive with continued successful tapir births in the future.

Meet The Minnesota Zoo’s Malayan Tapirs


Stats: Female 19 years old. Mother to Tuah and Indah
How to ID?Notch in right ear. Pink around toes.

Personality: Described by zookeepers as very easy to work with and train. Personality is very mellow and easy going. Her favorite enrichment is the broom and getting belly massages. Recently separated from being with her calf, Tuah, after 2 years, Bertie now enjoys relaxing and resting on habitat.


Stats: Female, 4 years old. Oldest calf to Bertie
How to ID?No pink around toes, top edge of right ear is jagged.

Personality: More active than other tapirs and more excitable. A bit more high-strung. Always on high alert and reacts more to changes (noises, movement). She relaxes more in her behind-the-scenes bedroom habitat. Cautious around newer items. Can often be found spending time in the pool in the morning.


Stats: Male, 2 years old. Youngest calf of Bertie.
How to ID? White spot on the right side of the neck. He is also the only male.

Personality: Was very rambunctious with his mom, Bertie; he was separated from his mom in mid-summer 2022 to begin exploring solo, similar to how tapirs separate from their moms in the wild. Quick to react to changes (noises) in environment due to being younger and still learning. Very interested in exploring – everything is new and different to him. Getting used to being alone on habitat and away from his mom. He is gaining confidence with exploring by himself!

Tapir Preferences

Favorite Food:

Favorite Resting Location:
Laying in the straw bedding provided on exhibit.

Favorite Activities:
Swimming in pool and foraging for scattered food/browse throughout exhibit in the morning. They also love to push and roll around objects.

Favorite Enrichments:
All tapirs are very tactile animals that love to be touched/scratched/rubbed. 
Brooms and hand massages (TT Touch often used on horses) by Zookeepers help relax and calm them.
Foraging enrichments with browse .

Least Favorite Enrichments
A plastic webbed hay feeder. Their lips can get caught in holes.
Tuah and Indah are more hesitant to enrichments with quick movements or noises.

Caring for the Tapirs

Learn more about tapirs and what it takes to care for the tapirs through this enrichment and training session with Zookeeper Angela!

Help Protect Malayan Tapirs

Tapirs in the Wild

As the largest of the four tapir species, Malayan tapirs can weigh 550-800 lbs. and grow to be 6-8 feet long! They are primarily nocturnal and solitary and can be found in the Tropical rainforests of Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Sumatra.

They communicate through high pitched whistles and scent marking as they browse and forage for food. As an herbivore, they can eat up to 85 lbs. in a night! They primarily eat grasses, shrubs, fruits, and leaves as they travel in a zig zag pattern through dense forests. They are also excellent swimmers using their prehensile snout as a snorkel, they also feed on aquatic plants!

They also are considered a keystone species, helping their ecosystems stay healthy. They act as pollinators from the foods they eat, spreading the seeds and helping biodiversity in the tropical forests. They have also been called ecosystem engineers by acting like gardeners of their ecosystem, pruning the forests as they forage and helping more saplings blossom and grow.

Tapir Conservation

Unfortunately, Malayan Tapirs are considered endangered, with fewer than 2500 individuals left in the wild. Their biggest threat is destruction of its habitat for agriculture, specifically palm oil. Although local traditions and beliefs limit their hunting, tapirs are often unintentionally caught in poachers’ snares set for other animals.

In partnership with other AZA Zoos throughout the United States, Malayan tapirs are managed for breeding purposes by a Species Survival Plan (SSP), which helps maintain the captive gene pool for the future aid of the wild population. The Minnesota Zoo currently participates in 23 SSP programs, including the Malayan tapir SSP. Since the Zoo opened, there has been 10 Malayan tapir births, all which have gone into the SSP pool!

What is Exhibit Design?

Zoos are frequently welcoming new animals, whether it be in a brand-new exhibit or in an existing one. Whatever the case may be, the zoo exhibit designer’s job is to design the best environment for the animals as well as the keepers and the visitors. 

Designing an exhibit starts by researching the animal’s natural environment to learn all they can about the animal’s habitat, including the plants, climate, and topography. Research might also include a consideration of the animal’s behavior, such as how much space it needs, if it climbs, jumps, or swims, and how strong it is.

Working cooperatively with curators, zookeepers, educators, artists, engineers, and many others, exhibit designers must also consider the needs of the keepers, through creating functional and easy to clean spaces, and the visitors, by creating exhibits that are educational, interactive, and deliver an important message about conservation. Balancing these needs in one design is a difficult job with many differing opinions and constraints!

What is Enrichment?

Animals in zoos do not have the same opportunities for physical and mental stimulation that wild animals do, so zookeepers provide the animals with objects or changes to their environment that will stimulate the behaviors of healthy wild animals.

Enrichment gives animals something to think about, encourages exercise, and gives animals a degree of control of their environment by giving them choices. Basically, enrichment helps keep life interesting and challenging.

Enrichment can come in a variety of forms including environmental, novelty, sensory (scent and sound), behavioral training, dietary, and social.

• Providing live and artificial plants for shade and barriers
• Using trees, ropes, or rock work to increase and enhance living space
• Using puzzle feeders that offer a challenging method of obtaining food
• Housing a variety of compatible animals from the same habitat together
• Applying scents (spices, food, animal-lure, dung) around an exhibit
• Simulating or using real prey items in predator exhibits to encourage stalk-and-chase behaviors
• Playing predator or prey sounds to encourage instinctive responses

Check out the videos below of our animals having fun with enrichment!

Virtual Minnesota Zoo Visit

Explore the Minnesota Zoo virtually through videos of fun animal encounters, zookeeper talks, and take a peek behind the scenes to stay connected with our animals and staff!

Join the ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge, presented by Flint Hills Resources, next school year!

If you are a grade 3-12 teacher looking for ways to engage your students in authentic integrated STEM, join the ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge presented by Flint Hills Resources next school year! Participation is completely free! Teachers will receive access to a free training, design challenge supporting curriculum resources for both in person an digital learning formats, and ongoing implementation support throughout the school year from Zoo education staff. Registration will open for the 2022-2023 school year this spring.

If you missed out this year, follow us on Minnesota Zoo for Educators Facebook Page and sign up for the MNZOOEDU Times to be notified when registration opens and to hear about the latest Zoo education news and events for educators.

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