WEST ORANGE, NJ – What does a zoo that already has lions, tigers and bears do? It adds giraffes to the mix of exotic animals at the zoo. On July 15, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. held a press conference at the Turtle Back Zoo to break ground and announce plans to develop a Giraffe Exhibit at the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. The three-acre Giraffe Exhibit, which will be the largest attraction at the zoo, is being funded through the Essex County Capital Budget, and with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.
The exhibit is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016. Terminal Construction from Wood Ridge, N.J., was awarded a publicly-bid contract for $7 million to build the exhibit and the Essex County Department of Public Works will monitor the project to answer questions so delays can be avoided.
The Giraffe Conservation Foundation has reported that there are less than 80,000 giraffes in Africa (down from 140,000 in 1999) and that giraffes are becoming an endangered species. Therefore, the Masia giraffes at Turtle Back Zoo will be included in a breeding program sponsored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to help bolster the species numbers.
“It’s always a good day when you roll out a project like this,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said. “In addition to the giraffes, this multi-species exhibit will feature antelope and ostrich. It will greatly enhance the African animals in our collection and expand our opportunities to fulfill our mission of education and conservation.”
“We continually look for new ways to introduce more exotic animals to the public so Turtle Back Zoo can fulfill its mission of raising awareness about nature and the importance of animals,” said DiVincenzo. “Bringing giraffes to Essex County strengthens and diversifies our animal family, and provides an interesting exhibit that will excite and attract more visitors.
“I love animals and am excited about giraffes coming to Turtle Back Zoo,” said Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake. “Children will enjoy this and it will become a revenue producer with visitors paying a nominal fee to feed the animals,
“Joe, you are a brilliant administrator who always does a wonderful job improving our parks,” she added.
Located behind the Animal Hospital and Train Station, the exhibit was been designed by French & Parrello from Wall, N.J., which received a $375,000 contract to design the giraffe exhibit. It will house at least three giraffes and other animal species from Africa that are compatible with giraffes. In accordance with the Turtle Back Zoo Master Plan, the giraffe exhibit is situated in the southern section of the zoo which will include other exhibits featuring animals from the African continent.
Two types of giraffe subspecies, Masai and Reticulated, will be relocated to Turtle Back Zoo when the exhibit is completed—one is in Kansas City and the other is in Springfield, Missouri. Masai Giraffes are typically found in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, are the largest subspecies of giraffes and are the tallest land mammals, according to a zoo official. They have large, distinctive, dark brown, vine-leaf shaped, jagged spots interspersed by creamy-brown irregular lines and are noticeably darker in color that other species of giraffes. Reticulated giraffes are the most commonly seen giraffes in captivity. They are found in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. They are slightly shorter and have the “classic” giraffe pattern of large red-brown blotches with a white web-like pattern dividing them. Giraffes typically grow to be about 16 to 18 feet tall.
The habitat created for the giraffes will resemble three acres of the African Savannah and will have multiple viewing areas for the public including areas where the public can view the giraffes feeding. A climate-controlled barn, approximately 200-by-100-feet in size, to house the giraffes during the winter will be attached to the exhibit. To make the exhibit visitor-friendly during the winter months, closed circuit cameras will be installed in the barn so the giraffes can be viewed on a video screen in the Zoo Café.
Freeholder Patricia Sebold said, “I am really excited to be part of this announcement. A previous administration wanted to close Turtle Back, but look at where we are today. Turtle Back is the number one zoo in New Jersey and that is a tribute to the attention given by our County Executive."
She added, “I am really excited that we are going to have such a wonderful exhibit of giraffes. There will be three to start. We are already considered the best zoo in New Jersey. Now we will be even better. People are coming from all over, including from out of state, to visit our well known Turtle Back Zoo.”
“Turtle Back Zoo is a great destination for families because of the great quality of life it provides,” said Freeholder Leonard Luciano. “The addition of giraffes will make this an even more popular place, and it’s because of the vision that Joe DiVincenzo has for this place.”
“We at the Zoological Society are excited that giraffes are coming to the Zoo and that we will be involved in conservation and education efforts to sustain the species. Since1999, wild giraffe populations have declined by about 40 percent,” Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins said. “This new project will provide an arena for us to inspire advocates and tell the plight of these animals.”
This is just one of the many renovations and innovations added to the Turtle Back Zoo. Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $70 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing a new Educational Building; a Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; building the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit with sea lions, sharks and sting rays; the Big Cat Country Exhibit with jaguars and cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with white cheeked gibbons apes, Reeves muntjac and white naped cranes; Australian Exhibit that features kangaroos, wallabies, emus and over 500 birds in the Aviary; Reptile and Education Center, open air dining pavilion and playground, Penguin Exhibit, Otter Exhibit, Wolf Exhibit, Alligator Exhibit, North American Animal Exhibit, Black Bear Exhibit, Animal Hospital, Essex Farm Petting Zoo and South American Animal Exhibit; renovating the Food Pavilion for year-round use and making upgrades to the entrance as well as fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements.
Funding for these endeavors has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Investors Bank, Prudential Financial, Inc., Wells Fargo (Wachovia Bank), PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy and OxyMagic carpet cleaning.
The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.