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RFID Helped Monkey Zoo Ease Crowding

To help determine where, when and why pedestrian traffic jams occurred, the Netherlands' Apenheul Primate Park gave tagged "monkey bags" to a percentage of its visitors.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 24, 2007The Apenheul Primate Park offers visitors a unique, intimate experience.Located in the Netherlands, the 32-acre park houses 35 species of monkeys, apes and lemurs, many of which roam the grounds freely and often come into close contact with visitors.

This new zoo concept proved extremely successful following the park's opening in 1971, but by the time it reached its 30th birthday, the zoo had become a little too popular. "We were having 'traffic jams' in the park," says Bert Smit, the park's head of marketing and education, explaining that throughout the day, clusters of visitors often formed at various areas inside the park, making it difficult for people to pass.

Visitors to Apenheul Primate Park are provided tagged carrying bags to hold their belongings as they walk among the monkeys, apes and lemurs freely roaming the grounds.

The heavy traffic jams were not just bad for visitors, who had to wait on increasingly long lines and whose visibility of the animals was becoming degraded, but also for the monkeys, who shied away from the large, noisy crowds.

It was clear the park needed to redesign its facilities, visitor programs, or—more likely—both, to accommodate its growing crowds of more than 5,000 visitors per day. Before doing so, however, the park's administrators sought a better understanding of the park's areas of heaviest use, as well as where, when and why traffic built up throughout the day. To obtain the data, it would need to determine these factors, the park turned to RFID technology.

From July to October of 2005, the park sampled traffic flow by collecting the locations and times of tag-read events from active RFID tags carried by visitors. Distributing and collecting the tags was simplified by sewing the tags into 200 of the more than 5,000 green canvas "monkey bags" the zoo provides all visitors.

According to Smit, visitors are told to place all purses, backpacks and other carried items into the green zippered bags, which help keep valuables out of the primates' reach. The primary motivation for the policy, though, was to curtail the animals' growing tendency to steal snacks from visitors. "The monkeys were getting more and more food that they should have not gotten, and were getting sick," says Smit.

For the project, the park selected Wavetrend's TG-501 active tag, which has a slim profile because it was designed for use as part of a personnel tag. Eleven Wavetrend readers—which can read the 433 MHz tags from up to 10 meters away—were mounted throughout the park to provide the level of tracking that park administrators considered accurate for the sampling of visitor tracking they desired. The tags and readers use a proprietary air-interface protocol.

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