Turtle Back Zoo
|Location||West Orange, New Jersey, United States|
|No. of animals||Approximately 1,400|
|Annual visitors||755,000 (2016)|
Turtle Back Zoo is a zoo in West Orange, New Jersey as part of the South Mountain Recreation Complex. Situated on 20 acres (8.1 ha) in the South Mountain Reservation, it is part of the Essex County Park System, the oldest county park system in the United States. Founded in 1963, the zoo was originally a showcase for animals indigenous to the New York metropolitan area, but currently features species from every continent except Antarctica. As of 2018, it houses approximately 1400 animals, including several hundred birds in a free-flight aviary. Located adjacent to the Richard J. Codey Arena, former practice home of the New Jersey Devils, the zoo is open year-round, weather permitting.
The Turtle Back Zoo has been an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) since 2006. In 2017, the zoo became an accredited member of ZAA (Zoological Association of America).
Turtle Back Zoo, which took its name from a nearby rock formation, opened in 1963 with a collection of 140 animals representing 40 species. It was originally opened seasonally and had a Hans Christian Andersen "storybook theme," with such exhibits as "a giant piggy bank, the ABC house, [and] the pirates’ ship". By 1973 the zoo was home to 850 animals representing 275 species.
In 1975, the Zoological Society of New Jersey was established to help promote the zoo and provide funding. Despite this, Turtle Back Zoo fell into disrepair, and was almost shut down in 1995.
In 2000, the zoo created a master plan with the objective of improving the zoo enough to receive accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Between 2003 and 2006, Turtle Back received approximately $20 million in funding, which was used to improve the facilities, and in 2006 the zoo received its first accreditation. New facilities included the Essex County Animal Hospital on zoo grounds, and a new 11,000-square-foot (1,000 m2) entrance/administrative complex with a 4,000-square-foot (370 m2) reptile center, classrooms, and an auditorium.
In 2016, zoo attendance exceeded 700,000 visitors for the first time in its history.
Exhibits include an American black bear exhibit; the Essex Farm, which holds common farm animals and includes a petting zoo; and the Tropical Currents Aquarium, which exhibits fish from around the world in six large tanks; African Adventure's first enclosure which exhibits Masai giraffes, Common Eland, Ostriches, White-faced whistling ducks and Bontebok.
The $4.6 million reptile house and education center, the zoo's first indoor exhibit, opened in June 2006. When the 4,000-square-foot (370 m2) reptile center opened, it contained a pair of nine-foot-long "black dragons", a species of monitor lizard which was discovered in Malaysia in 2005 and has yet to receive a scientific name. The Reptile House's main exhibit now contains a Komodo dragon an animal born by parthenogenesis.
The gibbon habitat contains a 11,000-square-foot (1,000 m2) outdoor mesh tent habitat that is home to the zoos five gibbons. This $1.8 million exhibit was opened in 2009 and became the first exhibit for Amazing Asia.
Shores of Africa
Wolf Woods is the home of 2 subspecies of gray wolf. The wolf exhibit is where the wolves sleep in a den.
Sea Lions and Touch tank
This exhibit features an 82,000-gallon pool for sea lions and a 1,600-gallon touch tank for sting rays, along with space for education programs and special events. This $5.5 million exhibit was opened in 2013.
Big Cat Country
The exhibit features cougars and jaguars and has a Southwest United States theme. The animals’ area has rock outcroppings, a waterfall and indigenous Southwest plantings. Viewing areas resemble a southwest mine or cave and stamped concrete pathways for visitors resemble a southwest trail. The big cat area has an indoor winter refuge area for the animals and secure holding areas. It also is being used as a breeding facility. This $3 million exhibit was opened in 2011.
In May 2016 the zoo opened their three-acre African Adventure attraction. The $7 million addition is designed to mimic an African Savannah and contains four Masai giraffes. In addition the exhibit contains: eland, whistling ducks, ostriches, bonteboks, and tortoises (now in South America). In spring 2017, this ancient exhibit includes lions and a pack of hyenas.
Drill Family Flamingo Exhibit
In the summer of 2018, the zoo opened a new exhibit for the American Flamingo and the Hyacinth Macaw. The current flamingo habitat was the zoo's old penguin exhibit, which got demolished and replaced by a home for new tropical birds.
There are several attractions at the zoo, including a train ride the 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge Turtle Back Zoo Railroad train ride, carousel, and a playground. All the zoo's attractions are part of the South Mountain Recreation Complex.
The Turtle Back Zoo Railroad is a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge attraction that opened with the rest of the zoo in 1963. The railroad originally operated two S-24 Iron Horse trains manufactured by Allan Herschell. These were replaced in 1984 and 1999 by C. P. Huntington trains manufactured by Chance Rides. In 2015, the railroad received a third C. P. Huntington locomotive as part of a program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's death on April 18. From 2019 to 2020, the railroad underwent a renovation to make room for a new parking deck, and in 2020, Investors Bank became the official sponsor of the railroad.
The carousel opened in 2008 and is in a large gazebo. Known as the Endangered Species Carousel, riders are seated on one of 30 endangered species, which includes pandas, alligators, and tiger.
On September 25, 2010, the Turtle Back Zoo opened the Turtle Back Zoo Safari Mini Golf course. Designed by French & Parrello Associates, P.A., the miniature golf course replicates three African regions: the Sahara Desert, the African Grasslands, and the Congo located to the center is Mount Kilimanjaro. The miniature golf course consists of 19 holes and contains various animal sculptures, such as a camel, an elephant, a gorilla, a lion and more.
In September 2011, the zoo opened the Treetop Adventure Ropes Course.
An education center opened in July 2014.
Residents of Essex County have lobbied for expansion of the zoo to cease, citing traffic congestion and disruption of the surrounding South Mountain Reservation. In July 2019, Essex County officials announced the construction of a proposed amphitheater, grizzly bear exhibit, and overnight camping. Essex County officials reported in September 2019 that as a result of the backlash, the amphitheater was scaled back, though no exact details were released. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the amphitheater plans were put on hold in 2020.
- "History". turtlebackzoo.com. Turtle Back Zoo. Archived from the original on 4 August 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
- Yarmove, Hillel L. (7 March 2012). "Keeper of the Flame: An interview with Dr. J. D. Goodman, director of the Turtle Back Zoo, skilled veterinarian, and president of the West Orange Eruv Society". Hamodia Magazine. pp. 12–16. Archived from the original on 9 March 2012. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
- With new Essex giraffes, a state-of-the-art barn and added revenue
- "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". aza.org. AZA. Retrieved 29 September 2010.
http://essexcountynj.org/essex-county-executive-divincenzo-announces-turtle-back-zoo-attendance-breaks-700000-for-first-time-new-annual-attendance-record-is-set-for-11th-consecutive-year/. Missing or empty
- Essex County Executive DiVincenzo Recounts Historic Year at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, Essex County, February 7, 2008 - accessed May 15, 2012
- Read, Philip (24 September 2009). "$1.8M gibbons apes exhibit opens at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo". nj.com. The Star-Ledger.
- Turtle Back Zoo welcomes 4 giraffes
- Giraffes Arrive At Turtle Back Zoo In N.J.
- PHOTOS: African Adventure Exhibit — with Giraffes — Opens at Turtle Back Zoo
- N.J.’s Turtle Back Zoo Will Get Lions, Hyenas: $3.6M Exhibit Planned
- "Turtle Back' Zoo's African Adventure Exhibit Recognized for Excellence in Design". TAPinto. Retrieved 2019-04-04.
- "Livingston Resident Donates New Locomotive to the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo". TAPinto. Retrieved 2017-07-27.
- "Miniature Train Ride at Turtle Back Zoo Gets Official Sponsor". TAPinto. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
- Read, Philip (16 September 2010). "Turtle Back Zoo mini-golf course is latest West Orange rebranding effort". nj.com. The Star-Ledger.
- Yi, K. (September 29, 2011). "Treetop Adventure Course Open Today". MaplewoodPatch. Archived from the original on April 25, 2012. Retrieved 2011-10-21.
- $2M rescue at N.J. zoo to rehab sick sea turtles
- Proctor, Owen. "Turtle Back Zoo may expand African Adventure, add camping". North Jersey Media Group. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
- "Turtle Back Zoo 'Habitat' Amphitheater Has Been Scaled Back, County Official Reports". The Village Green. 2019-09-10. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
- "Turtle Back Zoo Amphitheater Project 'On Hold,' Official Says". West Orange, NJ Patch. 2020-05-26. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
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