WEST ORANGE, NJ -- The Ronald J. Mount Lion and Hyena Exhibit at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo was opened on Monday, June 12, by Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. The exhibit is a part of the African Adventure area of the zoo. Turtle Back Zoo is now home to animals from North and South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa.
“The lion is the central figure on the Essex County Seal, so it’s only natural that we have real life versions at Turtle Back Zoo. Known as the King of the Jungle, the lions are one of the most recognizable and popular animals. They will complement our Masai Giraffes and make the African Adventure exhibit an even more dynamic attraction,” DiVincenzo said. “Ronald Mount was a great advocate for Turtle Back Zoo, and he always wanted to bring lions here. We are pleased to have partnered with his family to make his dream come true and create a first-class exhibit for the public to enjoy,” he added.
"Lions and Hyenas interact in the wild and that is what we have tried to re-create here," Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr said. "What is also important is that both of these species are part of the AZA'S (American Zoological Association) species survival plan so we can provide a genetically stable population for years to come," he added.
The half-acre exhibit includes exposed rock formations to attract the lions and three viewing stations. A heated stone patio is near one of the viewing stations to encourage the big cats to lounge where they can easily be seen.
Mount, for whom the exhibit is named, became involved in Essex County Turtle Back Zoo in 2005 when he generously contributed to the development of the 'Bears in Your Backyard' exhibit. The bear exhibit was the first major addition to the Zoo during the DiVincenzo administration and marked the beginning of a number of exhibits designed to replicate the animals’ natural habitats. The 18,000-square-foot bear exhibit features two bears, named Jelly and Jam, and provides visitors with the experience that they are watching the bears from their own home.
Mount later joined the volunteer Docent Organization which assists Turtle Back Zoo staff with educational and outreach programs and became a board member of the Zoological Society of New Jersey, the fundraising arm of the Zoo. For his contributions, Mount was one of the honorees at the Turtle Back Zoo 50thAnniversary Gala in 2013. During the event, he and his grandson, Jasper, gave a speech to the more than 600 people in attendance.
"Turtle Back Zoo meant a great deal to my father and having lions here was always his dream. It's a special day when I can show my children that there grandfather had such a meaningful role at the zoo," said Ian Mount, Ronald Mount's son. "It's great that we can all enjoy this without going too far from home. I hope this exhibit opens with a roar," he added.
Mount also was involved in other philanthropic and civic activities. He founded the Ronald J. Mount Educational Foundation, which was his own personal legacy of supporting educational opportunities for deserving individuals. He also had served as President of the American Cancer Association, President of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund in New Jersey and President of the Millburn Board of Education. Professionally, he was a successful real estate investor and was involved in the commercial and residential real estate market in Naples, Fla. He passed away on April 23, 2015.
Construction of the lion and hyena exhibit area began in October 2016 and was finished in seven months.
The Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $14 for adults, $11 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.