From the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo:
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. opened the new Shores of Africa Penguin Exhibit in Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Friday, May 4th. The African penguins will join the giraffes, lions and hyenas in the African Adventure, bringing all of Turtle Back’s animals from the largest continent into the same area.
“Our penguins always have been among our most popular animals. We believe this exhibit creates a better environment for the penguins, makes a more dynamic experience for our visitors and enables us to expand our educational opportunities and conservation initiatives,” DiVincenzo said.
“This is just a tremendous exhibit and I’m happy to see the zoo getting better and better,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said.
“The Zoological Society is pleased to partner with the County Executive in support of the Penguin Exhibit. We are excited by how the zoo and its role in conservation initiatives has grown,” Zoological Society of NJ Executive Director Adam Kerins said.
The indoor, climate controlled exhibit is housed in a 4,200-square-foot building. The interior section for the penguins has fabricated rock walls and a 30,000-gallon salt water pool to simulate the penguins’ natural habitat off the southern African coast. The rock walls have nest-burrows to encourage breeding among the penguins. The size of the exhibit will enable Turtle Back to increase the penguin colony to 30 from 12. It is designed with a synthetic thatched roof and landscaping to integrate it into the African Adventure section.
A new walkway connects the Shores of Africa exhibit with the lion and hyena exhibit to the north and the Giraffe House to the south. Visitors are able to view the penguins from three different levels inside the building: A regular view from ground level, a below grade area to see the penguins swim underwater and an elevated area to watch the penguins from above. Glass walls in front of the exhibit space will ensure there are no obstructions. Other animal species also will be introduced into the exhibit, including sharks and small monkeys. Educational displays about penguins and their habitats are part of the visitor area.
“Relocating our African Penguin colony to our African Adventure path is a fitting move; not only will our penguins benefit from the new exhibit, our guests will too. We have added nest-burrows for our penguins to raise chicks in and included cameras so our keepers can better monitor the chicks. Our guests will have the opportunity to see these birds behave just like they would in the wild. With underwater viewing, guests can watch penguins swim amongst Zebra sharks and even hunt for their own fish. With plans to add even more birds to our flock, we now will have an exhibit and colony that will sustain itself for years to come,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr said.
The Penguin Coast exhibit, the penguins’ current home across from the Savanna Café, was upgraded in 2008. It is not large enough to accommodate a larger penguin colony and will be repurposed to feature flamingos.
French and Parrello from Wall received a $235,000 contract to design the Shores of Africa exhibit. Terminal Construction from Wood-Ridge was awarded a publicly-bid contract for $5,989,996 to build the attraction. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the program to ensure delays were avoided. The exhibit was funded with grants from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, the NJ Green Acres program and the Zoological Society of New Jersey and with funds from the Essex County Capital Budget. Work began in July 2017 and was completed in just 10 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 907,522 in 2017 and the zoo has operated as a self-sustaining facility with revenue collected exceeding operating expenses for the last ten years. In addition, Turtle Back is accredited by American Humane, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Zoological Association of American, 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.
The Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 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.
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, lions and hyenas; 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, the family of Ronald Mount 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 23 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.