WEST ORANGE, NJ – The new Turtle Back Zoo Flamingo Exhibit, which was officially opened with a celebratory ribbon cutting on Wednesday, has been dedicated as the “Drill Family Flamingo Exhibit” in honor of the West Orange family’s long-time relationship with the zoo.
The Drill Family’s relationship with Turtle Back dates back 55 years, since building the zoo in 1963. The family has been instrumental in helping to develop new attractions like the flamingo exhibit ever since.
“I can think of no better family than the Drills to name the exhibit after,” said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. “They built the original zoo and have stayed involved through the years helping us build more modern exhibits that have transformed Turtle Back into the great educational, family destination it has become.”
The Drill family was not only involved with the construction of the original Turtle Back Zoo, it has also been awarded public bids in recent years to build exhibits for the penguins, komodo dragon, reticulated python and monkeys, as well as the Tropical Currents Aquarium.
The family’s current contract with the zoo called for the Drills to demolish the old Penguin Coast Exhibit that they constructed in 2008 and build the new Flamingo Exhibit in its place.
“My family is absolutely thrilled to receive this honor from the county executive,” said Philip Drill, chairman of Drill Construction of West Orange. “We have the greatest appreciation for this incredible honor for helping to make Turtle Back Zoo an excellent destination with a national reputation.”
As DiVincenzo announced the attraction’s opening on Wednesday, he said that the new flamingo exhibit “is a dynamic attraction that will captivate the attention of our visitors.”
“Not only can you see the flamingos up close, but if you stand on the second floor of our Savanna Café, you can look right into the exhibit area,” he said. “With their unique appearance and colorful feathers, the flamingos are sure to become a favorite of our visitors.”
State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz added that under DiVincenzo’s leadership, the zoo has become “more than just your typical zoo.” Today, she said, it is a learning center for children and adults that promotes conservation and environmental stewardship.
Also in attendance at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting were Essex County Freeholders Patricia Sebold, Janine Bauer and Carlos Pomares, who all agreed that the new exhibit adds to the zoo’s dynamic attractions and that it is likely to encourage even more visitors.
“Projects such as this don’t happen overnight,” said Pomares. “They are the result of the ongoing commitment of our county executive and work he does every day.”
On behalf of the Zoological Society of New Jersey, Executive Director Adam Kerins said it was a pleasure to work with the county on this project, adding that the flamingo attraction “is a fantastic exhibit that [he doesn’t] think is equaled at any other zoo.”
According to Turtle Back, flamingos are found around the world from the Caribbean and South America to Africa, the Middle East and Europe. They are famous for their bright pink feathers, stilt-like legs and S-shaped neck.
Their favorite foods include shrimp, snails, and plantlike water organisms called algae. An average flamingo can weigh about 8 pounds and be about 40 inches tall.
The new exhibit features a pool, nesting island in the middle of the pool and an imitation waterfall. There is a 1,000-square-foot indoor facility to hold the flamingos when they are not on exhibit. Shade structures are provided in the viewing areas for visitors.
“Flamingos are a good addition to Turtle Back because we don’t have many exhibits featuring birds and this will help diversify our animal family,” Kerr said. “Our mission at Turtle Back includes promoting education about and understanding of animals. Because flamingos are found in many parts of the world, we will be able to highlight conservation efforts and cultures from different parts of the globe.”
To recognize the Drill family, a bronze plaque has been placed at the exhibit.
It begins with a quote from popular zookeeper Jack Hanna—“Zoo animals are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild—and continues with the following:
“The Drill Construction Company of West Orange has a legacy of nine decades and three generations of family members. They have built medical facilities, transportation hubs, retail centers and communication towers, and their work can be seen in 30 states, the Bahamas and Greenland.
“What is most important to this family-owned business is much closer to home, and that’s the work they have done for decades at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. The company has been there from the beginning, building the original Zoo when it opened in 1963 and continuing that relationship with the construction of the Penguin Coast, Komodo Dragon, Reticulated Python and Monkey Exhibits and the Tropical Currents Aquarium.
“They have returned to their ‘labor of love’ once again, this time developing Turtle Back’s Flamingo Exhibit. We are pleased to count the Drill Family as part of our Turtle Back Zoo Family and name this exhibit in their honor.”
French and Parrello from Wall designed the flamingo exhibit as part of an existing contract. Drill Construction from West Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $3,201,810.
Funding was provided with grants from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund and New Jersey Green Acres program, and an allocation from the Essex County Capital Budget. Work began in March and took five months to complete.
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.