Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to Spend $50 Million on Improvements Over Next Two Years


The bulk of the spending, about $32.5 million, is intended to breathe new vitality into one of the zoo’s oldest features, its North America exhibit, where habitats for wolves, bears and moose are kept.

The improvements will include new habitats for gray wolf, bald eagle, black bear, North American river otter, and Canada lynx. Ground-breaking is scheduled for the fall, according to a news release.

Nearly $4 million will be used to expand and improve the bonobo, or pygmy chimpanzee, indoor/winter habitat. Construction for this project begins this spring.

Overall, the zoo is investing another $8 million for animal wellbeing and habitat improvements, facility upgrades, new technology, enhanced security, and more, according to zoo officials.

“It’s probably 80 to 85% new,” said Tom Schmid, President and CEO of the zoo and The Wilds. “The remainder is to improve existing habitats.”

Work also will continue at The Wilds animal refuge near Zanesville on a $7 million RV campground which will have 46 spots for RVs, 27 primitive camping spots, hiking, biking trails, a playground, a camp store, a dog park, two shower houses, and fishing and swimming facilities at a nearby lake. The campground is expected to be complete by early next year.

The projects focus on animal wellbeing at the nearly 100-year old zoo, providing more security for visitors and improving the lives of our animals, said Schmid.

Funding for all these projects comes from various sources, including federal and state grants, philanthropic donations, and earned revenue.

The announcement comes as Puerto Rico’s only zoo announced on Monday that it is closing permanently due to outdated facilities, reports of animal neglect and other problems at its 45-acre facility.

The Wildlife Sanctuary in Colorado said it would transfer up to half of the zoo’s animals to its facility at no cost to Puerto Rico’s government. However, they would not take primates or unique birds given Colorado’s weather.

Schmid said Columbus would be open to helping with relocation any way it can. Already, some of the zoo’s animals “were rescued and needed a forever home,” he said, including a moose. “We need to make sure we have strong capacity to even take in other animals.”

Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources has said it is cooperating in plans for transfers and with the continuing investigation in the zoo, which opened in 1954.

Rising costs and demand for stronger, safer and pleasing animal habitats are taking a toll on zoos everywhere, Schmid said. “I suspect we’re going to see more zoos close in the next 20 years than we see open.”

Source: The Columbus Dispatch