The newest addition to Zoo Boise was still a construction zone on Tuesday, encased in chain-link fence and echoing with the whir of power tools. But by July 17, when the exhibit is set to open, zoo officials say it will transport visitors to southeastern Africa.
The Gorongosa National Park Exhibit has been years in the making. Named for the famed park of the same name in Mozambique, the exhibit adds 2.5 acres and more than 20 new species to the zoo, including African wild dogs, a Nile crocodile and olive baboons.
“This isn’t going to be a 2-hour visit to the zoo anymore,” Doug Holloway, director of Boise Department of Parks and Recreation, told the Statesman.
Zoo Boise director Gene Peacock said the Gorongosa addition is a huge step toward modernizing the 103-year-old zoo. It’s also a step toward recovery for the Mozambique wildlife park, which was ravaged by civil war in the late 1970s and ‘80s.
Gorongosa’s ties to Boise
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Gorongosa area of Mozambique was hailed as home to the most diverse species populations on the planet. In the 1960s and early ‘70s, it was a popular safari destination for celebrities and globetrotters. But war broke out in 1976 when the Mozambique Liberation Front began fighting for independence from Portugal.
Years of fighting wiped out many of the animals and more than a million people, who died in the violent conflict or from the ensuing famine, illness and poverty. Rehabilitation efforts began in the 1990s, and in 2004, Idaho philanthropist Greg Carr joined the effort. In 2013, Zoo Boise’s then-director, Steve Burns, announced plans to create the Idaho exhibit — and help fund the ongoing restoration in Africa.
“This is a program that’s been in the making for about eight to 10 years,” Peacock said. “Our goal was to bring a little bit of Mozambique to the people of Boise.”
The zoo has been donating funds to Gorongosa since 2008, when Zoo Boise became the first zoo to charge a 50-cent conservation fee with each ticket. Initially the efforts were more modest, about $17,000 for lion restoration in 2008, nearly $13,000 to move elephants in 2009. But gradually the donations grew. Since 2013, Zoo Boise has contributed $200,000 to Gorongosa National Park each year — more than $1 million total.
“When you visit Zoo Boise, 50 cents of your admission goes straight to conservation,” Peacock said on Tuesday.
Bringing African grasslands to Boise
Over the last several weeks, Zoo Boise has received some special deliveries: a 7 1/2-foot Nile crocodile named Pandora (for the ruckus she raised when they “let her out of the box,” Peacock said), a trio of African wild dogs (1 1/2-year-old brothers Teddy, Dax and Cassius), a troop of olive baboons and a pair of spotted-necked otters, among dozens of other animals including African giant millipedes, pied crows and white-backed vultures.
The animals are settling into their respective enclosures in the Gorongosa Exhibit on the zoo’s eastern edge. Peppered through those enclosures and the new exhibit are nods to the Mozambique park.
“It tells the story of Gorongosa and why we’re involved with it,” Peacock said.
It follows a format similar to the African Plains Exhibit that opened at Zoo Boise in 2008, the last time the zoo unveiled an addition. That area recreated a Masai village. The Gorongosa area includes landscaping modeled from real landscapes in Mozambique, like the waterfall in the otters’ exhibit and the hand-painted murals decorating the indoor portions of each enclosure. Visitors also can stop by the Lion House — but don’t worry, the zoo’s lions are still in their longtime exhibit.
The Lion House is a re-creation of a 1940s structure built on a flood plain of Lake Urema. The building was abandoned due to flooding, and the lions claimed it as their own, perching on the roof to survey the surrounding grassland.
All told, the addition cost about $9 million, roughly $7 million of which was spent on construction. A portion of the cost also goes toward conservation in Gorongosa.
Visiting Zoo Boise’s Gorongosa Exhibit
Where, when: Zoo Boise, 355 Julia Davis Drive, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, last admission is at 4:30 p.m. Gorongosa National Park Exhibit opens Wednesday, July 17, at 10 a.m.
Tickets: $10 general, $8 seniors, $7 children 3-11, free for 2 and younger and Friends of Zoo Boise pass holders. Thursdays are discounted: $7.25 general and seniors, $6 children 3 to 11. Admission includes the conservation fee. More info: (208) 608-7760, ZooBoise.org.
Parking: Available at Julia Davis Park, and officials said shuttle service will be available to and from Ann Morrison Park for overflow parking during the first week of the exhibit.
Learn more about Gorongosa’s recovery
Rocky Barker, special correspondent for the Idaho Statesman, visited Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park in June to examine the work of Idahoan Greg Carr, whose team is restoring wildlife populations and improving the lives of the 150,000 people who live around the park. Barker went to Africa in 1998 for the Idaho Statesman to compare conservation efforts there to the conservation efforts taking place in the American West at the time. In a series that starts Sunday, Barker will show how Carr and his team are helping bring peace to Mozambique after civil war recently flared up again, how they’re empowering young girls to stay in school and how they’re creating new jobs for some of the poorest people in the world.