Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. welcomed Ravi Iyer and Hema Mani and their two daughters from Parsippany as the 511,656th visitors to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Monday, December 26th. This set a new annual attendance record at the Zoo for the seventh consecutive year and it is the second consecutive year that more than half a million visitors have come to Turtle Back Zoo.

“We have made tremendous improvements to Turtle Back Zoo and the large turnout of visitors show how popular our Zoo has become. Introducing new natural habitat exhibits like the Big Cat Country and Gibbons Apes, along with our Carousel, Treetop Adventure Course, miniGOLF Safari and Train Ride attractions make coming to Turtle Back Zoo a fun, learning adventure for children and families,” DiVincenzo said. “We would not be here without the continuing support of our loyal visitors, sponsors, volunteers and staff. We look forward to seeing everyone in 2012 for even more adventures, excitement and family fun,” he added.

Mr. Iyer and Ms. Mani, along with their daughters, Shreya and Shruti Iyer, walked through the Turtle Back Zoo entrance at 6:18 p.m. during the Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular to set the record. In recognition of the milestone, DiVincenzo, Essex County Parks Director Dan Salvante and Turtle Back Zoo Director Dr. Jeremy Goodman presented the family with a gift basket filled with toys, stuffed animals and merchandise from Turtle Back Zoo, along with a one-year membership to the Essex County Zoological Society.

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“We come here regularly and visited just a few days ago,” Ms. Mani said. “The kids love it. Our favorite areas are the new Big Cat Exhibit and the Red Panda. Our children enjoy coming here because there’s always something new to see,” she added. Her husband, Ravi, said, “This is so unexpected. This is a great surprise.”

In 2010, Essex County Turtle Back Zoo welcomed over 500,000 visitors for the first time in its history and finished the year with 511,655 visitors. The attendance total topped half a million earlier in December thanks to the overwhelming popularity of the Holiday Lights Spectacular, which has attracted over 40,000 people since the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

A new attendance record has been set every year since 2005, when 211,449 visitors came. Attendance over 300,000 was set in 2006 and attendance over 400,000 was set in 2007.

5th Annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular

Essex County Executive DiVincenzo invites the public to enjoy the final week of the Fifth Annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. Free admission is being offered at The Holiday Lights Spectacular, which will be held as follows:


Dates:            Tuesday, December 27th to Sunday, January 1st

Times:           5 to 9 p.m. each night

Place:            Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex

Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

560 Northfield Avenue

West Orange, NJ



About 50 animal and holiday-themed figures will light up the winter night in Turtle Back Zoo and the surrounding Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. Over 100,000 lights will illuminate figures of bears, tigers and elephants, along with holiday lights designed to look like wooden soldiers, stars and winter scenes. Several animal exhibits will be open, including the Essex Farm, Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve, Tropical Currents Aquarium and the Reptile Building. Myrtle the Turtle, the mascot of Turtle Back Zoo, and several of his winter friends will be on hand to greet visitors at the Zoo.

Admission is free. The Zoo is collecting non-perishable food items; new, unwrapped toys; and new or gently used winter coats. Items will be donated to several organizations that provide assistance to the needy.

The Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular is sponsored by Covanta Energy, PSE&G, McLoone’s Boathouse Restaurant, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation. Hot chocolate and other refreshments will be available to purchase. For more information, please call Essex County Turtle Back Zoo at 973-731-5800 or visit

Turtle Back Zoo is open Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Regular admission is $7 for children and senior citizens, $10 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For additional information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit