WEST ORANGE, NJ — Snow leopards and Amur leopards are the centerpiece of the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo’s newly reopened leopard exhibit, which officially reopened on Monday. 

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. was on hand Monday morning to cut the ribbon at the exhibit as part of his initiative to provide the highest standard of care and first-class conditions for the animals.

"Many of the upgrades were made behind the scenes and will enhance the care we provide to the leopards and the safety for our animal keepers, and improve the efficiency of how the exhibit operates," DiVincenzo said of the leopard exhibit. "What happens behind the scenes is just as important as the public exhibit space seen by our visitors.”

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Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold noted that the zoo “keeps getting better and better" thanks to DiVincenzo’s commitment to these projects.

"Projects like these should not be taken for granted,” said Freeholder Carlos Pomares. “There is something new to see every time we come to Turtle Back Zoo.”

To enhance conditions for the two leopard species, the holding areas were enlarged, caging was replaced with new equipment and an addition to the building was constructed to create the additional space needed. New heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems were also installed inside the expanded building. In addition, the perimeter fencing and wire mesh that went above the outdoor exhibit area were replaced.

"As director of Turtle Back Zoo, I appreciate the resources and support the County Executive provides,” said Michael Kerr, zoo director. “The public will not be able to see a difference in the exhibit, but the improvements that were made to the building, holding areas and fencing help tremendously in how we operate and care for our animals.”

Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins noted that there are currently less than 100 Amur leopards in the wild. He said it’s great to see that the Turtle Back Zoo is “in the middle of important conservation efforts” and a part of the story to help strengthen this population.

According to the county, professional services contract to French & Parrello of Wall to design the improvements for the leopard exhibit. In addition, Crosson Construction of Rumson was awarded a publicly bid contract for $2.194 million to perform the construction work to the exhibit's support building, and GSP Properties of Metuchen was awarded a publicly bid contract for $387,421 to replace the perimeter and mesh fencing.

The Department of Public Works helped monitor the project to avoid delays, and the project was completed in six months.

Improvements were funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.

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.

Cutting the ceremonial ribbon with the county executive above are (from left) Russell Crosson from Crosson Construction, Essex County Public Works Director and County Engineer Sanjeev Varghese, Erich Reulbach from Crosson Construction, Mike Piga from French and Parrello, Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne, Freeholder Patricia Sebold, Chief of Staff Philip Alagia, Freeholder Carlos Pomares with his children Mario, Carlos Jr. and Felicita, Essex county Parks Director Dan Salvante and Zoological Society of NJ Executive Director Adam Kerins.