WEST ORANGE, NJ - African penguins have officially joined the giraffes, lions and hyenas in the African Adventure at the Turtle Back Zoo, bringing all of the zoo’s animals from the largest continent into the same area.
Local dignitaries joined Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. in opening the new Shores of Africa Penguin Exhibit on Friday afternoon.
"Our penguins always have been among our most popular animals," said DiVincenzo. “We believe this exhibit creates a better environment for the penguins, makes a more dynamic experience for our visitors and enables us to expand our educational opportunities and conservation initiatives.”
County Freeholder Patricia Sebold said that the exhibit is “tremendous” and that she is “happy to see the zoo getting better and better."
"The Zoological Society is pleased to partner with the County Executive in support of the Penguin Exhibit,” said Zoological Society of NJ Executive Director Adam Kerins. “We are excited by how the zoo and its role in conservation initiatives has grown.”
The indoor, climate-controlled exhibit is housed in a 4,200-square-foot building. The interior section for the penguins has fabricated rock walls and a 30,000-gallon saltwater pool to simulate the penguins' natural habitat off the southern African coast.
The rock walls have nest-burrows to encourage breeding among the penguins. Also, the size of the exhibit will enable Turtle Back to increase the penguin colony from 12 to 30. It is designed with a synthetic thatched roof and landscaping to integrate it into the African Adventure section.
A new walkway connects the Shores of Africa exhibit with the lion and hyena exhibit to the north and the Giraffe House to the south. Visitors are 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. Educational displays about penguins and their habitats are part of the visitor area.
"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 Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr said. “We have added nest-burrows for our penguins to raise chicks in and included cameras so our keepers can better monitor the chicks.”
Kerr added that guests will have the opportunity to see these birds behave just like they would in the wild.
“With underwater viewing, guests can watch penguins swim amongst Zebra sharks and even hunt for their own fish,” he said. “With plans to add even more birds to our flock, we now will 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 monitored the program to ensure delays were avoided. The exhibit was 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 began in July 2017 and was completed in only 10 months.
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.
Pictured above is DiVincenzo, Jr. (center) cutting the ceremonial ribbon with the (in center from left) Chief of Staff Phil Alagia, Michael Piga from French and Parrello, Assemblyman Kevin Rooney, Zoo Director Michael Kerr, Freeholder Patricia Sebold and Parks Director Dan Salvante.