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Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Announces New Animal Friends

The following is from the Office of Essex County

Photo by Greg Lembrich

Essex County officially opened the Ronald J. Mount Lion and Hyena Exhibit at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Monday, June 12th. This exhibit expands the African Adventure themed area of the zoo, which already includes four Masai giraffes, and is named after the late Ronald J. Mount, who was a major supporter of the zoo and a member of the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Volunteer Docents.

The Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $14 for adults, $11 for children and senior citizens, and free for children younger than 2 years. For more information, call 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org/turtlebackzoo.

“The lion is the central figure on the Essex County Seal, so it’s only natural that we have real life versions at Turtle Back Zoo. Known as the King of the Jungle, the lions are one of the most recognizable and popular animals. They will complement our Masai Giraffes and make the African Adventure exhibit an even more dynamic attraction,” said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. “Ronald Mount was a great advocate for Turtle Back Zoo, and he always wanted to bring lions here. We are pleased to have partnered with his family to make his dream come true and create a first-class exhibit for the public to enjoy,” he added.

The exhibit featuring the lions and hyenas is part of the African Adventure Exhibit and is adjacent to the Giraffe House. The half-acre exhibit is heavily landscaped and has a two-foot pool and exposed rock formation. There are three stations for the public to view the animals. At one station is a heated stone patio to attract the lions so they can be easily seen. At the rear of the exhibit is a heated one-story building that is designed to resemble an old North African fortress that has been returned to the wild.

“Lions and Hyenas interact in the wild and that is what we have tried to re-create here,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr said. “What is also important is that both of these species are part of the AZA’S species survival plan so we can provide a gentically stable population for years to come,” he added.

Mount became involved in Essex County Turtle Back Zoo in 2005 when he generously contributed to the development of the Bears in Your Backyard exhibit. The bear exhibit was the first major addition to the Zoo during the DiVincenzo administration and marked the beginning of a number of exhibits designed to replicate the animals’ natural habitats. The 18,000-square-foot bear exhibit features two bears, named Jelly and Jam, and provides visitors with the experience that they are watching the bears from their own home.

Mount later joined the volunteer Docent Organization which assists Turtle Back Zoo staff with educational and outreach programs and became a board member of the Zoological Society of New Jersey, the fundraising arm of the Zoo. For his contributions, Mount was one of the honorees at the Turtle Back Zoo 50th Anniversary Gala in 2013. During the event, he and his grandson, Jasper, gave a speech to the more than 600 people in attendance.

“Turtle Back Zoo meant a great deal to my father and having lions here was always his dream. It’s a special day when I can show my children that there grandfather had such a meaningful role at the zoo,” said Ian Mount, Ronald Mount’s son. “It’s great that we can all enjoy this without going too far from home. I hope this exhibit opens with a roar,” he added.

Mount also was involved in other philanthropic and civic activities. He founded the Ronald J. Mount Educational Foundation, which was his own personal legacy of supporting educational opportunities for deserving individuals. He also had served as President of the American Cancer Association, President of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund in New Jersey and President of the Millburn Board of Education. Professionally, he was a successful real estate investor and was involved in the commercial and residential real estate market in Naples, Fla. He passed away on April 23, 2015.

French and Parrello from Wall, NJ, received a $350,000 contract to design the exhibit. Shauger Property Services from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $3,660,214 to perform the construction work. The Essex County Public Works Department monitored the project so delays were avoided. The exhibit was funded with a donation from Ian Mount, Ronald Mount’s son, and support from the Pooled Government Loan Program from the Essex County Improvement Authority. Construction began in October 2016 and was finished in seven months.

Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has roared back to life from the verge of closure by a previous administration. Attendance reached an all-time high of 795,558 in 2016 and the zoo has operated as a self-sustaining facility with revenue collected exceeding operating expenses for the last nine years. In addition, Turtle Back earned its third five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2016 and its first five-year accreditation from the Zoological Association of American in 2017, a clear indication that an institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education. It also has been named the Best Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine four times and received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.com three times.

Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $75 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing the African Adventure with four Masai giraffes; a new Educational Building; the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit with sea lions, sharks and sting rays; the Big Cat Country Exhibit with jaguars and cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with white cheeked gibbons apes, Reeves muntjac and white naped cranes; Australian Exhibit that features kangaroos, wallabies, emus and over 500 birds in the Aviary; Reptile and Education Center, open air dining pavilion and playground, Penguin Exhibit, Otter Exhibit, Wolf Exhibit, Alligator Exhibit, North American Animal Exhibit, Black Bear Exhibit, Animal Hospital, Essex Farm Petting Zoo and South American Animal Exhibit; renovating the Food Pavilion for year-round use and making upgrades to the entrance as well as fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements. Funding has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Investors Bank, Prudential Financial, Inc., Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy, Matrix Development Group and OxyMagic carpet cleaning.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.

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