Big changes are coming to the Maryland Zoo in the next 18 months!

Yesterday, the Zoo announced the renovation and expansion of several areas within the African Journey section of the Zoo, specifically the expansion of the elephant barn and creation of new outdoor yards, as well as major renovations to the giraffe and lion habitats.

“We are committed to meeting or exceeding the highest standards of animal care for every animal in the Zoo,” stated Don Hutchinson, president and CEO of The Maryland Zoo in a press release. “When it comes to habitat design, this means creating opportunities for animals to engage naturally and actively with their environment and to make choices about when, where, and how to engage.  Since my tenure began here ten years ago, we have strived to improve upon existing habitats, taking animal, staff, and visitor needs into consideration. We are incredibly excited to get these new improvements underway.”

What will change?  The elephant habitat will be expanded to dramatically change the current elephant experience for both the elephants and Zoo visitors.  The outdoor elephant habitat will nearly triple in size to 77,330 square feet by transforming the  camel ride area and former Rock Island penguin exhibit into the Savanna Passage and Upper Savanna Habitat. New features will be added to the outdoor habitat that will increase the elephants’ ability to engage in natural behaviors such as dusting, bathing and mud wallowing, as well as guests ability to view and learn about these amazing animals. Features will include a water cannon, a flexible elephant hay hoist, a demonstration/keeper chat area and a new, more accessible boardwalk leading to an expansive deck space called the Savanna Overlook, where guests can watch the elephants wallowing in the mud and dusting themselves in the sand pit.

The physical expansion of the habitat will allow the Zoo to increase the herd and provide space for rearing calves, upgrades to the existing barn will also enhance elephant management practices. The indoor barn space will nearly double to 14,300 square feet, and will include expanded stalls with new flooring including sand beds and rubberized floors, training walls in multiple locations, hydraulic gates to allow for remote operation when transferring elephants in and out of the barn and new animal care team facilities featuring an enclosed, air conditioned space with kitchenette, lockers and meeting area.

The giraffe habitat portion of the project is aimed at improving animal health and safety. The slope of the current outdoor yard will be re-graded to make the ground flat throughout and therefore safer for the animals when the ground is wet.  The outdoor habitat will increase 33 percent to 36,200 square feet and will include an expansion of the smaller giraffe yard.

A newly created guest pathway, the African Overlook, will be developed as a cul-de-sac in between the lion and the giraffe habitats, adjacent to the Giraffe Feeding Station. This pathway will have a dramatic impact on the visitor by providing guests with a more intimate viewing experience with an eye level passage to lions on the left and giraffes on the right.  The barrier along the lion side of the African Overlook path will be a combination of stainless steel mesh and glass, giving the lion habitat a more open feel. There will also be a large window with a training demonstration area where visitors will be able to watch keepers interact with the lions during positive reinforcement training sessions, which effectively ask the lions to participate in their own health care.

Construction will begin immediately and is expected to be completed by Fall 2019, with the project estimated to cost $16 million; funding provided by the State, as well as private donations and grants.

This article comes from a press release from The Maryland Zoo. Images provided by the zoo.