Giraffes Heading Over To Turtle Back Zoo
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced plans to develop a Giraffe Exhibit in Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Wed., July 15. At three acres in size, the Giraffe Exhibit will be the largest attraction at the zoo.
“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.”
Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said, “It’s always a good day when you roll out a project like this. 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.”
Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins said, “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. Since 1999, wild giraffe populations have declined by about 40 percent. This new project will provide an arena for us to inspire advocates and tell the plight of these animals.”
Located behind the Animal Hospital and Train Station, the exhibit was designed to 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, MI. Masai Giraffes are typically found in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, are the largest subspecies of giraffes and are the tallest land mammals. 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. Giraffe typically grow to be about 16 to 18 feet tall.
The Giraffe Conservation Foundation reports that there are less than 80,000 giraffes in African (down from 140,000 in 1999) and that giraffes are becoming an endangered species. The Masai 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.
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.
The exhibit is being funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. It is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016.
Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.