Giraffes Are Coming to Turtle Back Zoo!

The following is from the office of Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr.:

Giraffe Exhibit Groundbreaking at Turtle Back Zoo
Giraffe Exhibit Groundbreaking at Turtle Back Zoo

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced plans to develop a Giraffe Exhibit in Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Wednesday, July 15th. At three acres in size, the Giraffe Exhibit will be the largest attraction at the Zoo.

“We continually look for new ways to introduce more exotic animals to the public so Turtle Back Zoo can fulfill its mission of raising awareness about nature and the importance of animals. Bringing giraffes to Essex County strengthens and diversifies our animal family, and provides an interesting exhibit that will excite and attract more visitors,” DiVincenzo said.

“I love animals and am excited about giraffes coming to Turtle Back Zoo. Children will enjoy this and it will become a revenue producer with visitors paying a nominal fee to feed the animals,” Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake said. “Joe, you are a brilliant administrator who always does a wonderful job improving our parks,” she added.

“I am really excited to be part of this announcement. A previous administration wanted to close Turtle Back, but look at where we are today,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “Turtle Back is the number one zoo in New Jersey and that is a tribute to the attention given by our County Executive,” she noted.

“Turtle Back Zoo is a great destination for families because of the great quality of life it provides. The addition of giraffes will make this an even more popular place, and it’s because of the vision that Joe DiVincenzo has for this place,” said Freeholder Leonard Luciano.

“It’s always a good day when you roll out a project like this. In addition to the giraffes, this multi-species exhibit will feature antelope and ostrich. It will greatly enhance the African animals in our collection and expand our opportunities to fulfill our mission of education and conservation,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said.

“We at the Zoological Society are excited that giraffes are coming to the Zoo and that we will be involved in conservation and education efforts to sustain the species. Since 1999, wild giraffe populations have declined by about 40 percent. This new project will provide an arena for us to inspire advocates and tell the plight of these animals,” Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins said.

Located behind the Animal Hospital and Train Station, the exhibit was designed to house at least three giraffes and other animal species from Africa that are compatible with giraffes. In accordance with the Turtle Back Zoo Master Plan, the giraffe exhibit is situated in the southern section of the zoo which will include other exhibits featuring animals from the African continent.

Two types of giraffe subspecies – Masai and Reticulated – will be relocated to Turtle Back Zoo when the exhibit is completed: one is in Kansas City and the other is in Springfield, Missouri. Masai Giraffes are typically found in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, are the largest subspecies of giraffes and are the tallest land mammals. They have large, distinctive, dark brown, vine-leaf shaped, jagged spots interspersed by creamy-brown irregular lines and are noticeably darker in color that other species of giraffes. Reticulated giraffes are the most commonly seen giraffes in captivity. They are found in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. They are slightly shorter and have the “classic” giraffe pattern of large red-brown blotches with a white web like pattern dividing them. Giraffe typically grow to be about 16 to 18 feet tall.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation reports that there are less than 80,000 giraffes in African (down from 140,000 in 1999) and that giraffes are becoming an endangered species. The Masai giraffes at Turtle Back Zoo will be included in a breeding program sponsored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to help bolster the species numbers.

The habitat created for the giraffes will resemble three acres of the African Savannah and will have multiple viewing areas for the public, including areas where the public can view the giraffes feeding. A climate-controlled barn approximately 200-by-100-feet in size to house the giraffes during the winter will be attached to the exhibit. To make the exhibit visitor-friendly during the winter months, closed circuit cameras will be installed in the barn so the giraffes can be viewed on a video screen in the Zoo Café.

French & Parrello from Wall, N.J., received a $375,000 contract to design the giraffe exhibit. Terminal Construction from Wood Ridge, N.J., was awarded a publicly bid contract for $7 million to build the exhibit. The Essex County Department of Public Works will monitor the project to answer questions so delays can be avoided. The exhibit is being funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. It is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016.

Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $70 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing a new Educational Building, the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; building 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 (Wachovia Bank), PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy 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.


West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. (center
in back) announced plans to develop a Giraffe Exhibit in Essex County Turtle
Back Zoo on Wednesday, July 15th. At three acres in size, the Giraffe
Exhibit will be the largest attraction at the Zoo. It will feature two types
of giraffe subspecies – Masai and Reticulated – as well antelopes and
ostriches. With the County Executive at the groundbreaking are (in back)
Freeholder Leonard Luciano, Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake,
Freeholder Patricia Sebold, Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer,
Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla, Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff William
Payne, Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins and
West Orange Councilwoman Susan McCartney, along with members of the
volunteer Docent Organization. (Photo by Glen Frieson)

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