From the Essex County Executive’s Office:
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. opened the African Adventure Exhibit at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Tuesday, May 17th. The exhibit is the largest at Turtle Back and features four Masai giraffes, eland, whistling ducks, ostrich and tortoises. Joining the County Executive at the ribbon cutting were Governor Chris Christie, First Lady Mary Pat Christie and Abigail Puleo from Nutley, a grade-school student who is recovering from cancer.
“Of all the new natural habitat-themed exhibits and attractions we have introduced through the years at Turtle Back, the African Adventure Exhibit with our four giraffes probably has created more excitement among the community and our visitors. This anticipation and the opportunity to see exotic animals that we probably would never see up close are at the heart of our mission to raise awareness and promote education about animals, the environment and conservation,” DiVincenzo said.
“It’s important to have places like Turtle Back Zoo where children can come and learn about nature and the environment, but also places where families can have quality time together,” Christie said. “I am thrilled to be back here at Turtle Back Zoo. Joe DiVincenzo has done a wonderful job of making this a special place,” he added. DiVincenzo also presented First Lady Mary Pat Christie with a gift basket of Turtle Back Zoo souvenirs.
Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer highlighted the fact that Turtle Back Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is part of its Species Survival Plan. “Zoos are a wonderful place for the public to see animals from throughout the world, but they also have an integral role in saving vulnerable species that are on the brink of extinction and helping to strengthen their population,” he said. “We thank the County Executive for having the vision to create this state of the art exhibit and look forward to the limitless education and preservation opportunities it creates for us here at Turtle Back Zoo,” Spencer said.
The three-acre exhibit is located in the southern part of the zoo behind the Animal Hospital and Train Station. It is a mixed species exhibit, featuring animals found in the African savanna – Masai giraffes, eland, whistling ducks, ostrich and tortoises. All of the giraffes are of the Masai subspecies, which are typically found in southern Kenya and Tanzania, 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 than other species of giraffes. They typically grow to be about 16 to 18 feet tall. The four giraffes at Turtle Back were all born in the United States and came from other zoos in Florida, South Carolina and San Diego.
Current estimates by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation put the giraffe population at about 80,000, which is down from 140,000 in 1999. Giraffes are endangered because they are often victims of poaching. Turtle Back Zoo is now among 29 AZA accredited zoos that house 119 giraffes.
The African Adventure was specifically designed to accommodate the giraffes. The barn is the largest structure at the Zoo. It has a specially designed, three-layer floor with a slip-resistant finish. There is an indoor exercise area for the giraffes, adjustable hay racks to accommodate the different heights of the giraffes, windows are positioned at the giraffe’s height so they can look outside during the winter and there are multiple heating systems to ensure proper temperatures.
The outdoor 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.
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 monitored the project to answer questions and avoid delays. The exhibit was funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. Construction of the exhibit started in July 2015 and was finished in December 2015. The giraffes were relocated to Turtle Back in March, with the last two months being used to allow the animals to get used to their new surroundings.
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.
Ribbon cutting photo by Glen Frieson; other photos by Maplewood Township Committeeman Greg Lembrich.)