Essex County officials have recently announced plans to modernize the Red Panda and Clouded Leopard areas in the Turtle Back Zoo's Asia-themed exhibit. Keep reading to find out what that means for both residents and animals currently inhabiting the zoo.
Founded in 1963, Turtle Back Zoo was originally intended to be a showcase for animals indigenous to the New York Metropolitan area. The zoo has grown significantly in the past 50 years and is now the largest zoo in New Jersey. As of 2018, Turtle Back currently features species from every continent except Antartica. It houses approximately 1,400 animals, including several hundred birds in a free-flight aviary and is open year round, weather permitting.
Since 2003 alone, the zoo has seen over $100 million in expansion and repairs. What started off as just 15 acres of land, the zoo will now take up over 50 acres of space. Because of this rapid expansion, there has been significant pushback against the project.
One of the biggest groups to express concern about this project are the Coalition to Save South Mountain Reservation, a nature reserve that includes woodlands, hardwood trees, streams, ponds, and waterfalls in which the Turtle Back Zoo is currently built onto. They have recently released a statement that highlights concern for flooding as well as infringing upon reservation forest that includes wetlands. The group also complained that while the zoo has received over $100 million in tax payer's dollars to expand and remodel, nothing has been invested in maintaining the reservation.
Essex county seems to feel differently about the project however. They have stated that updates to the Amazing Asia Exhibit will help the zoo meet guidelines from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, enhance animal care, and provide better viewing areas for the public. Even zoo staff agree that this project is a win not only for residents and zoo attendees but for the animals as well. Jillian Fazio, Turtle Back Zoo director, has stated that because all the animals in this exhibit are endangered, the new design will help them educate guests all year round and will also set an example for zoos that handle these special types of animals as well.
Money for this project will come from grants from the NJ Green Acres program, Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, and through the Essex County Capital Budget.
Currently, the new exhibit is set to open in the Summer of 2022.