WEST ORANGE, NJ — On Friday, May 4, Turtle Back Zoo opened the new Shores of Africa Penguin Exhibit. The African penguins will join the giraffes, lions and hyenas in the African Adventure section of the zoo, 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 this exhibit creates a better environment for the penguins, makes a more dynamic experience for our visitors and enables us to expand our educational opportunities and conservation initiatives,” Essex County Executive Joseph DeVincenzo Jr. said.
The indoor, climate-controlled exhibit is housed in a 4,200-square-foot building. The interior section for the penguins has 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 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 is designed with a synthetic thatched roof and landscaping to integrate it into the African Adventure section.
A new walkway connects the Shores of Africa exhibit with the lion and hyena exhibit to the north and the Giraffe House to the south. Visitors are 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. Educational displays about penguins and their habitats are part of the visitor area.
“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 and included cameras so our keepers can better monitor the chicks. Our guests will have the opportunity to see these birds behave just like they 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 and 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 monitored the program to ensure delays were avoided. The exhibit was funded with grants from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, the NJ Green Acres program and the Zoological Society of New Jersey, and with funds from the Essex County capital budget. Work began in July 2017 and was completed in just 10 months.