WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange, NJ - Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced the re-opening of the Leopard Exhibit at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Monday, August 27th. The comprehensive modernization and expansion were part of the County Executive's initiative to provide the highest standard of care and first-class conditions for animals at Turtle Back. The exhibit features snow leopards and amur leopards.
"Many of the upgrades were made behind the scenes and will enhance the care we provide to the leopards and the safety for our animal keepers, and improve the efficiency of how the exhibit operates," DiVincenzo said. "What happens behind the scenes is just as important as the public exhibit space seen by our visitors," he noted.
"Projects like these should not be taken for granted. There is something new to see every time we come to Turtle Back Zoo," Freeholder Carlos Pomares said. "Thanks to our County Executive, Turtle Back Zoo keeps getting better and better," Freeholder Patricia Sebold said.
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To enhance conditions for the two leopard species, the holding areas were enlarged, caging was replaced with new equipment and an addition to the building was constructed to create the additional space needed. New heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems were installed inside the expanded building. In addition, the perimeter fencing and wire mesh that went above the outdoor exhibit area were replaced.
"As director of Turtle Back Zoo, I appreciate the resources and support the County Executive provides. The public will not be able to see a difference in the exhibit, but the improvements that were made to the building, holding areas and fencing help tremendously in how we operate and care for our animals," Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr said.
"There are less than 100 Amur leopards in the wild, so it's great that we are part of the story to help strengthen this population. It shows Turtle Back is right in the middle of important conservation efforts," Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins said.
French & Parrello of Wall, N.J., was awarded a professional services contract to design the improvements to the Leopard Exhibit. Crosson Construction from Rumson, N.J. was awarded a publicly bid contract for $2,194,000 to perform the construction work to the exhibit's support building. GSP Properties from Metuchen was awarded publicly bid contract for $387,421 to replace the perimeter and mesh fencing. The Department of Public Works monitored the project so delays were avoided. The improvements were funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. Work started in February and was completed in six 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, and South African Penguins; 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.