WEST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced on Aug. 16 that construction was under way for the new Shores of Africa Penguin Exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo. The African penguins will join the giraffes, lions and hyenas in the African Adventure, bringing all of Turtle Back’s animals from the largest continent into the same area.
“Our penguins always have been among our most popular animals. We believe that bringing more penguins to Turtle Back will make the exhibit even more exciting and provide a more dynamic experience for our visitors,” DiVincenzo said. “Shores of Africa will provide us with the space we need. In addition, it will enable us to expand our educational opportunities and conservation initiatives.”
A 4,200-square-foot building is being constructed to house the indoor exhibit. The interior will be designed with fabricated rock walls and a 30,000-gallon salt water pool to simulate the penguins’ natural habitat off the southern African coast. The rock walls will have nest-burrows to encourage breeding among the penguins. The size of the exhibit will enable Turtle Back to increase the penguin colony to 30 from 12. It will be designed with a synthetic thatched roof and be landscaped so it is integrated into the African Adventure section.
A new walkway connecting the Shores of Africa exhibit with the lion and hyena exhibit to the north and the Giraffe House to the south will be created. Visitors will be 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.
“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,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr said. “We have added nest-burrows for our penguins to raise chicks in, fitted with cameras for our keepers to monitor the chicks. Our guests will have the opportunity to see these birds behave just like we would in the wild. With underwater viewing, guests can watch penguins swim amongst zebra sharks and even hunt for their own fish. 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 Cafe, was upgraded in 2008. It is not large enough to accommodate a larger penguin colony and will be repurposed to feature flamingos.
French & 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 is monitoring the program to ensure delays are avoided. The exhibit is being funded with grants from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, the N.J. Green Acres program and the Zoological Society of New Jersey and with funds from the Essex County capital budget. Work began in July and is set to be completed by the spring of 2018.