Zoo Boise director Steve Burns has a lot on his plate these days. While his term as the chairman of the international Association of Zoos and Aquariums ended in October, he remains on the board of the national organization for another year. And he’s hard at work planning Zoo Boise’s next-level expansion that will offer zoo visitors a taste of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique and the Annamite Mountains in Indochina.
“We’re all looking forward to the future,” Burns says. “The big thing is trying to finish the campaign and designing the new exhibit. There are a lot of moving parts involved.”
You can learn more about the project during “Wild at Heart,” a free day of fun at Zoo Boise on Saturday, Feb. 4. You also can watch the animals receive Valentine’s treats and enjoy activities like face painting and making a Valentine’s Day card for your favorite animal, such as the Kabita the snow leopard, pictured above.
You can check out the plans for the new exhibit with artistic renderings in front of the primate house and at the grassy event area by the carousel in the back section of the zoo.
“We are going to create a set of exhibits that are very different than what we’ve built before,” says Burns, who spoke from the AZA directors’ meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The $8.9 million “Zoo With a New View” campaign launched its public phase in 2016 after raising $7.1 million from private donors and foundations.
“The community has been incredibly generous,” Burns says. “And we’re grateful.”
The capital campaign is winding down, Burns says. About $200,000 still needs to be raised before April 1, or they could lose a $1.5 million challenge grant from an anonymous out-of-state donor.
The new area will be linked to Gorongosa, where Idaho philanthropist Greg Carr (pictured above left, with Burns in Gorongosa in 2014) is making it his life’s work to restore the park to its former splendor. Burns and a team from Zoo Boise traveled to Mozambique in 2014 to experience the park for themselves, and Burns sees the Boise exhibit as an important piece in helping rebuild the African preserve.
“We want to show people what it would be like if you stepped into Gorongosa Park,” Burns says. “We’re trying to teach people about what it takes to preserve places like Gorongosa.”
People who visit the zoo in Boise will become part of the effort to revitalize Gorongosa. Burns projects that the exhibit will generate about $2 million that will go to support the Gorongosa project, raised through additional fees for behind-the-scenes experiences like the “Giraffe Encounter,” where people can feed the animals (pictured above).
These will be a whole new kind of zoo exhibit, Burns says. He and his staff have been working with animal welfare experts from the San Diego Zoo to create environments for animals that will change throughout the year, with things like new pathways and apparatus for the animals to climb on and maneuver through.
“We want a more random environment to reflect the experience the animal would have in the wild,” he says.
The animals in the Zoo Boise Gorongosa exhibit will include wild African dogs, baboons, vervet monkeys, Nile crocodiles, white-backed vultures, southern ground hornbills and other birds, warthogs (pictured above), and nyala, a type of antelope. Some animals already at the zoo, such as the striped hyena, will move into the Gorongosa area. Other Zoo Boise animals, such as some primates, may need to be re-homed at another zoo.
The Gorongosa exhibit will add another acre and a half to the zoo’s compound, with the land coming from the east end of Julia Davis Park. This is the first time since 1981 that the zoo grounds have grown into the park.
The “Zoo With a New View” funds also will go toward other changes and improvements, including tearing down the primate house, building a new picnic and event area, and creating the exhibit based on the Annamite Mountains, which run along the border between Vietnam and Laos.
The last big updates at the zoo happened in 2008, when it opened the $3.7 million African exhibit, and in 2000 with the $1.7 million “Small Animal Kingdom” exhibit.
Construction on the Gorongosa exhibit is slated to start in 2018, and the new exhibits will roll out in the summer of 2019, Burns says.
‘Wild at Heart’
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4 (last admission at 4:30 p.m.), Zoo Boise, 355 Julia Davis Drive. 608-7760, ZooBoise.org. Free.
10:30 a.m.: Lions and maned wolves
11 a.m.: Giraffe and sloth bear
11:30 a.m.: Red panda and servals and ocelots
Noon: School House and Zoo Farm animals
12:30 p.m.: Hyena and North American porcupine
1 p.m.: Rabbits and warty pigs
1:30 p.m.: Shrew, prevost squirrel and armadillo
2 p.m.: Wallabies and capybara and cavy
2:30 p.m.: Condor and Aldabra tortoise
3 p.m.: Lemurs and coatis
3:30 p.m.: Spider monkey and patas monkey
4 p.m.: Primate House and penguins