Turtle Back Zoo opens new exhibits

Photo Courtesy of Paul Brown
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., center, announces the opening of two new natural habitat-themed animal exhibits at Turtle Back Zoo. Cutting the ceremonial ribbon in front of the Condor Exhibit with DiVincenzo are members of the Zoological Society and zookeepers.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced the opening of two new natural habitat-themed animal exhibits at Turtle Back Zoo on Monday, April 17. One exhibit is for Andean condors and the other exhibit combines giant anteaters and maned wolves. The new exhibits are part of the county’s ongoing initiative to expand recreational, educational and conservation opportunities at Turtle Back Zoo.

“Whenever we open new exhibits and welcome animals to Turtle Back Zoo it is a great day,” DiVincenzo said in a press release. “It provides our visitors with an opportunity to see and learn about animals from distant places that they may not ordinarily see, and helps in our conservation efforts to protect species and raise awareness about the importance of animals.”

Acting zoo Director Michael Kerr noted that the Andean condor, giant anteater and maned wolf are all part of a species survival program promoted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“Bringing these animals to Turtle Back Zoo will help further diversify the genetics of the species and help strengthen their population over the next generation,” Kerr said.

Andean condors are a species of vultures and are the largest flying birds in the Western Hemisphere. They are found on the western coast of South America. The new exhibit is located across the path from the Savanna Cafe, which opened in 2016, and next to the Penguin Exhibit. It features a man-made tree in its center with plenty of areas for the birds to perch. There also is a small man-made pond within the exhibit. The new exhibit was built to replace an older one that was closed at the zoo several years ago. The female condor coming to Turtle Back is originally from Taronga Zoo in Australia.

The giant anteater is native to South and Central America and is recognizable by its long snout. It eats primarily ants and termites and can grow to be 7 feet long and approximately 90 pounds. Maned wolves live in open areas, such as grasslands, and can be found in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and in the northern end of the Andes mountains. It can grow to weigh approximately 50 pounds and be 35 inches tall, and is recognizable by its long ears, which can be grow to approximately 7 inches. The male anteater is from Potawatomi Zoo in Indiana and the female maned wolf is from Denver Zoo in Colorado. The anteater and maned wolf are in the area formerly occupied by the Scottish Highland cow, which was relocated to PAWS Discovery farm in South Jersey. To enhance the public viewing area, a patio was constructed on the western side of the exhibit to allow visitors to walk right up the perimeter of the exhibit and see the animals with an unobstructed view. A similar viewing area enhancement was made to the Bison Exhibit last year. In addition, the viewing area at the Wolf Woods Exhibit was enhanced by enlarging the windows. The panoramic view gives the public greater sightlines into the exhibit and eliminates areas where the wolves can be out of view.

French and Parrello from Wall received a $90,000 contract to design the Condor Exhibit. It also designed the upgrades to the Anteater and Maned Wolf Exhibit under an existing contract. Zenith Construction from Orange was awarded two publicly-bid contracts to perform the construction work on both exhibits: $1,038,777 for the Condor Exhibit and $461,876 for the Anteater and Maned Wolf Exhibit. Funding for the improvements came from the Essex County Improvement Authority’s Pooled Government Loan Program and a grant from the Zoological Society of New Jersey. Work on both exhibits started in October 2016 and was completed in less than five months.