‘Look how close he is!’

Mary­land Zoo cel­e­brates open­ing of re­vamped African Jour­ney ex­hibits

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Talia Rich­man

Dur­ing the months that the Mary­land Zoo’s ele­phant ex­hibit was under con­struc­tion, Kevin Leary and his two young sons peered through the trees to sneak a glimpse of the hulk­ing crea­tures.

But on Satur­day, there was no need for Leary or his boys to crane their necks or squint their eyes. Tuffy, the 10,000 pound bull, lum­bered along right in front of them to grab a bite of hay.

“Look how close he is, James!” Kevin shouted to his six-year-old son, who was ea­ger to visit the ele­phants in their new home.

The zoo cel­e­brated the grand open­ing of its ex­panded “African Jour­ney” sec­tion this week­end, with hun­dreds of families fil­ing past the re­vamped ele­phant, lion and gi­raffe habi­tats. The $20 mil­lion face-lift is more than a year in the mak­ing, and rep­re­sents the largest ren­o­va­tion in the zoo’s 143-year his­tory.

“It’s won­der­ful to watch all these families bring their chil­dren and hear the com­ments as they see the lion up close or watch Tuffy from a whole new per­spec­tive,” said Mar­garet Rose-Innes, the zoo’s as­sis­tant gen­eral cu­ra­tor.

The out­door habi­tat for Tuffy and his fel­low African ele­phants nearly tripled to 77,330 square feet — larger, now, than a foot­ball field. There are new guest path­ways that al­low vis­i­tors to ob­serve ele­phants from dif­fer­ent van­tage points as they wan­der around.

To cel­e­brate the grand open­ing, zoo volunteers fanned out across the newly com­pleted ex­hibits. En­thralled kids watched as one vol­un­teer demon­strated the size and shape of an ele­phant’s tooth. They learned that African ele­phants grow six sets of teeth — com­pared to hu­mans’ who just have baby teeth and adult teeth. Ele­phants’ mo­lars wear down quickly as they grind up their diet of tree bark and roots.

Beatrice and Al­ice Mered­ith, ages 3 and 2, pressed their noses against the fence sep­a­rat­ing Tuffy’s ex­hibit from the crowd of on­look­ers. Beatrice likes watch­ing his big ears flap; Al­ice loves his swing­ing trunk.

The girls ask their mom, Lau­ren Mered­ith of Cock­eysville, nearly every week­end if they can come to the zoo. She’s im­pressed by the new ex­hibit, and how open and spa­cious it feels.

“It feels re­ally close,” she said. “Like you re­ally get to ex­pe­ri­ence how the ele­phant is and looks be­yond a sto­ry­book.”

The re­ac­tion of kids like Beatrice and Al­ice — the squeals of amaze­ment and shouts of won­der — is what makes the work worth it to Rose-Innes.

“I hope that the new ex­hibits re­ally create a close con­nec­tion with the an­i­mals they see here and, in time, it will en­cour­age them to think about con­ser­va­tion and what we as hu­mans can do to en­sure these an­i­mals ex­ist in the wild for gen­er­a­tions to come,” she said.

Re­minders of why that’s im­por­tant are sprin­kled through­out the ex­hibit. One sign in­forms vis­i­tors the ele­phant pop­u­la­tion in Africa de­clined more than 96 per­cent be­tween 1913 and 2019.

Por­tions of the new area opened in phases ear­lier this spring. It can be dif­fi­cult, Rose-Innes said, to ac­cli­mate zoo an­i­mals to new habi­tats, even if they do in­clude nicer spa­ces and more fea­tures. It took Caesar the gi­raffe three weeks to ven­ture out­side into his ren­o­vated space.

“We let him dic­tate the pace,” RoseInnes said.

His fe­male com­pan­ions started to emerge more re­cently, she said, and the zoo’s goal is to get all four mem­bers of the herd out­side to­gether at some point in the sum­mer.

The lions dealt with a big ad­just­ment, as well.

In the old lay­out, the gi­ant cats looked out onto the gi­raffe ex­hibit. Now, there’s a path­way for vis­i­tors in be­tween those two habi­tats.

The lions must ad­just to look­ing so di­rectly at peo­ple — and hav­ing peo­ple stare eye-to-eye back at them.

Zuri, the li­on­ess, has so far been bolder and more cu­ri­ous than her male coun­ter­part. She ven­tures up to the view­ing win­dow, while he’s more likely to lurk in the grass.

Stand­ing on the pavil­ion in front of the lion view­ing win­dow, vis­i­tors can swivel their heads to see into both the gi­raffe and ele­phant ex­hibits.

The African Jour­ney ex­hibit’s re­vamped de­sign in­cludes a pas­sage­way that makes it pos­si­ble for the gi­raffes to even­tu­ally cross from their ded­i­cated habi­tat to the “Up­per Sa­vanna” sec­tion of the ele­phants’ space

Per­haps one day, the zoo hopes, the gi­raffes and ele­phants will be able to share the habi­tat, just as they would in the wild.


Tuffy, an African ele­phant, ex­plores the Up­per Sa­vanna, part of the new African Jour­ney ex­hibits at The Mary­land Zoo in Bal­ti­more.

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