Essex County News

Turtle Back Zoo Receives American Humane Awards Certification

County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Jr. announces that American Humane has granted certification to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. Presenting the award is AH COO Jack Hubbard (fourth from left). Credits: Glen Frieson

WEST ORANGE, NJ - The American Humane (AH) recently became the third national organization to grant certification to the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. According to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., the certification exhibits the zoo’s commitment to providing the highest level of animal care.

DiVincenzo said the county has invested a great deal to transform Turtle Back Zoo into a destination attraction and that providing its animals with the highest quality of care is an integral part of our mission. He said that having the support of AH is further proof that the zoo is “committed to conservation, and raising the public's awareness about animals and their important roles in our world."

"Receiving certification from AH couldn't make me happier,” said DiVincenzo. "Becoming a certified facility is not an easy task, and it was only made possible because of the dedication on a daily basis of our zoo staff, volunteer Docents and Zoological Society members. I am proud that we have all come together with the singular goal of making Turtle Back the best it can be.”

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Dr. Robin Ganzert, AH president and chief executive officer, said AH was proud to recognize Turtle Back Zoo with its prestigious Humane Certified(tm) seal of approval.

"The American Humane Conservation program's independent, third-party audit exhaustively verified that the animals living in Turtle Back Zoo are receiving the utmost of humane treatment and care," said Ganzert.

As she stood at the zoo to witness the county executive’s acceptance of the award, Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold said, "Look at the beautiful facility we have here today. It's because we have the support and vision of our county executive, who cares about the zoo and our quality of life.”

"The county executive has followed the mast plan and made this a destination for everyone of all ages to enjoy," said Essex County Freeholder Len Luciano.

Turtle Back Zoo is the 17th facility in the United States to achieve certification through the global AH Conservation program for the welfare and humane treatment of the animals under its care. The zoo passed a rigorous third-party audit to earn the seal of approval.

The Turtle Back Zoo is also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Zoological Association of America, a clear indication that the institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education.

"Getting certified by one organization is hard, but earning and maintaining certification from three groups is very difficult," Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr said. “However, it displays our commitment to providing first-class and humane conditions for that animals that are in our care.”

Kerr thanked DiVincenzo for giving the zoo the resources to make it a first-class facility, as well as the staff for banding together every day to fulfill the zoo’s core mission of conservation.

"This recognition by American Humane is a fantastic thing for Turtle Back Zoo," said Adam Kerins, executive director of the Zoological Society of New Jersey. “It shows our commitment to animals.”

Presenting the award to the county executive (seen above) was American Humane COO Jack Hubbard (fourth from left). With them are (from left) Zoological Society of NJ Executive Director Adam Kerins, Parks Director Dan Salvante, Freeholders Patricia Sebold and Len Luciano, and Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr.

Groundbreaking for a New Flamingo Exhibit

DiVincenzo also announced plans to build a new Flamingo Exhibit, which will be located in front of the Savanna Café. The old Penguin Coast Exhibit formerly located at the site was demolished and removed to make room for the flamingos. The penguins will be relocated to the new African Penguin Exhibit currently under construction in the African Adventure area of the zoo.

"When we decided to relocate our penguins to the African Adventure section, we wanted to replace the exhibit with an animal that could captivate the attention of our visitors,” said DiVincenzo. “This was especially important because the area is across the pathway from the Savanna Café and those eating on the second-floor deck will be able to look into the exhibit space. With their unique appearance and colorful feathers, the flamingos are sure to become a favorite of our visitors.”

According to the zoo, 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 algae. An average flamingo can weigh about eight pounds and be about 40 inches tall.

The new exhibit will feature a pool, nesting island in the middle of the pool and an imitation waterfall. There will be a 1,000-square-foot indoor facility to hold the flamingos when they are not on exhibit. Shade structures will be 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.”

French and Parrello of Wall designed the Flamingo Exhibit as part of an existing contract. Drill Construction of West Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $3,201,810.

Funding is being provided with grants from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund and NJ Green Acres program, and an allocation from the Essex County Capital Budget. It is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2018.

Turtle Back Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for children and senior citizens, $12 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For more information, call 973-731-5800 or visit

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