WEST ORANGE, NJ – Construction is underway once again at the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo for the new “Shores of Africa Penguin” Exhibit, where African penguins will join the giraffes, lions and hyenas to bring all of Turtle Back's animals from the largest continent into the same area.
According to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, the penguins have always been among the most popular animals at the zoo.
"We believe that bringing more penguins to Turtle Back will make the exhibit even more exciting and provide a more dynamic experience for our visitors," said DiVincenzo. "Shores of Africa will provide us with the space we need. In addition, it will enable us to expand our educational opportunities and conservation initiatives.”
DiVincenzo is pictured above holding an artist's rendering of the exhibit alongside Essex County Parks Foundation President Lou LaSalle, Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne, Mike Piga from French and Parrellos, Freeholder Len Luciano, NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, Freeholder Patricia Sebold, Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr and Turtle Back Zoo Supervisor Bill Robles, who is holding Andy, one of the penguins at the zoo.
"One of the great things about Turtle Back Zoo is our residents can get in the car and take a short drive to get here,” said Teresa Ruiz, NJ senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz. “The zoo and this complex were created for our children and they will benefit from the experiences they have here.”
Sebold added that the Turtle Back Zoo and the recreation complex has become a destination for people from all over New Jersey thanks to the vision of our County Executive. She said the African Adventure has been a huge hit with the public and that bringing the penguins to this area will make it a bigger attraction.
"If not for the leadership of the County Executive and support from the Board of Freeholders, Turtle Back Zoo would not be where it is today," said LaSalle.
"On behalf of our 14,000 members and board of directors, we congratulate the Executive on the concept for the penguin exhibit,” said Adam Kerins, executive director of the Zoological Society of New Jersey. “We like the Zoo's movement to engage in more conservation efforts and are happy to support this facility.”
According to the county executive, a 4,200-square-foot building is being constructed to house the indoor penguin exhibit. The interior will be designed with fabricated rock walls and a 30,000-gallon saltwater pool to simulate the penguins' natural habitat off the southern African coast.
The rock walls will have nest-burrows to encourage breeding among the penguins. The size of the exhibit will enable Turtle Back to increase the penguin colony from 12 to 30. It will be designed with a synthetic thatched roof and be landscaped so it is integrated into the African Adventure section.
A new walkway connecting the Shores of Africa exhibit with the lion and hyena exhibit to the north and the Giraffe House to the south will be created. Visitors will be 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.
"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,” said Kerr. “We have added nest-burrows for our penguins to raise chicks in, fitted with cameras for our keepers to monitor the chicks. Our guests will have the opportunity to see these birds behave just like would in the wild.”
With underwater viewing, Kerr said 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, he added that the zoo will now have an exhibit and colony that will sustain itself for years to come.
The Penguin Coast exhibit, the penguins' current home across from the Savanna Café, was upgraded in 2008. According to the zoo, 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 (DPW) is monitoring the program to ensure that delays are avoided. The exhibit is being 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 on this project began in July and is set to be completed by the spring of 2018.