WEST ORANGE, NJ -- Weeks after arriving and settling down in their new location, the long-anticipated giraffes were unveiled May 17 at the Turtle Back Zoo.

The Masai giraffes are part of the African Adventure Exhibit, which was officially opened with Governor Chris Christie and his wife joining the County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and others in cutting the ribbon.This is the first time the governor had been back to the Zoo since his last visit in 2014.

The African Adventure is the largest area at Turtle Back and features animals found on the savanna: four Masai giraffes, eland, whistling ducks, ostriches and tortoises. The three-acre exhibit is located in the southern part of the zoo behind the Animal Hospital and Train Station.

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“Of all the new natural habitat-themed exhibits and attractions we have introduced through the years at Turtle Back, the African Adventure Exhibit with our four giraffes probably has created more excitement among the community and our visitors," said DiVincenzo.

"This anticipation and the opportunity to see exotic animals that we probably would never see up close are at the heart of our mission to raise awareness and promote education about animals, the environment and conservation”

“It’s important to have places like Turtle Back Zoo where children can come and learn about nature and the environment, but also places where families can have quality time together,” Christie said. 

The Masai subspecies, which are typically found in southern Kenya and Tanzania, are the largest subspecies of giraffes and are the tallest land mammals. They have large, distinctive, dark brown, vine-leaf shaped, jagged spots interspersed by creamy-brown irregular lines and are noticeably darker in color than other species of giraffes.

They typically grow to be about 16 to 18 feet tall. The four giraffes at Turtle Back were all born in the United States and came from other zoos in Florida, South Carolina and San Diego.

Current estimates by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation put the giraffe population at about 80,000, which is down from 140,000 in 1999. Giraffes are endangered because they are often victims of poaching. Turtle Back Zoo is now among 29 Association of Zoos and Aquarium accredited zoos that house 119 giraffes. 

Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer highlighted the zoo's AZA accreditation, and it's role in the association's Species Survival Plan. “Zoos are a wonderful place for the public to see animals from throughout the world, but they also have an integral role in saving vulnerable species that are on the brink of extinction and helping to strengthen their population,” he said.

The African Adventure was specifically designed to accommodate the giraffes. The barn is the largest structure at the Zoo. It has a specially designed, three-layer floor with a slip-resistant finish. There is an indoor exercise area for the giraffes, adjustable hay racks to accommodate the different heights of the giraffes, windows are positioned at the giraffe’s height so they can look outside during the winter and there are multiple heating systems to ensure proper temperatures.

The outdoor habitat created for the giraffes resembles three acres of the African Savanna and will have multiple viewing areas for the public, including areas where the public can view the giraffes feeding. 

A large crowd was on hand to witness the event and get a chance to see the giraffes, which have been celebrities since their arrival in March. Today's exhibit opening follows a few weeks after the unveiling of the fully renovated Savanna Cafe, (story here), which was greatly expanded to handle the larger crowds that have been flocking to the zoo and surrounding attractions, with over 755,000 people attending last year alone.

French & Parrello from Wall, N.J., received a $375,000 contract to design the giraffe exhibit. Terminal Construction from Wood Ridge, N.J., was awarded a publicly bid contract for $7 million to build the exhibit. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project to answer questions and avoid delays. The exhibit was funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. Construction of the exhibit started in July 2015 and was finished in December 2015. 


(Credit: all photos: Molly Glick)