DES MOINES — Iowa’s Blank Park Zoo will soon open phase one of the first major expansion of the Zoo since 2001.
The exhibit name, Jaama Kwa Africa, means ‘your connection to Africa’ and zoo officials hope visitors will connect to not only the animals and the culture of Africa but also the immediate conservation need that many animals, especially the rhinoceros, face. According to the International Rhino Foundation, there are less than 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild.
“The highlight of the exhibit is the Prairie Meadows Rhino Savanna,” CEO Mark Vukovich said. “Not only will you be able to see rhinos, you’ll learn why they are highly endangered and how you can help protect them. We want to raise awareness about this because it’s possible that within our lifetime these animals will be extinct in the wild.”
The three-acre, $4.5 million exhibit will open on May 4. The exhibit features an indoor area for rhino viewing during cooler seasons. In addition to the rhinos, the exhibit is home to an antelope species called eland, spurred tortoise, the Tim & Toni Urban Aviary, ostrich and kori bustards, one of the largest birds that can fly. Original artwork by Chris Vance and James Bearden will also be on display.
“Without the help of many generous donors, we would not have been able to come this far with this exhibit, and we would like to thank Prairie Meadows, Principal Financial Group and DuPont Pioneer for their help in this part of our expansion efforts,” said Vukovich.
“Prairie Meadows has worked hard over the years to fund many excellent programs in our community,” Prairie Meadows President/CEO Gary Palmer said, “and we are pleased to partner with Blank Park Zoo in bringing the African Exhibit and the Prairie Meadows Rhino Savanna to central Iowa.”
“This educational and cultural resource is just another way that we fulfill our mission of giving back as Prairie Meadows has given more than $1 billion in taxes, grants and charitable donations. We are proud of our company’s heritage, and we are pleased to help our community and the Blank Park Zoo in so many ways.”
“As a global business, we support the development of different cultural and environmental learning opportunities and are excited to help build the Gateway to Africa exhibit at the Blank Park Zoo,” said Michelle Gowdy, Director of Community and Academic Relations for DuPont Pioneer. “These experiences are integral to getting more kids interested in science and thinking about how they can use science to change their world.”
The past few years have brought about a number of changes to the Zoo. In 2011, the David Kruidenier Australia Adventure opened. Last year, the Hub Harbor seal and sea lion pool opened and features daily animal demonstrations, stroller accessible observation deck and underwater viewing.
In the Africa exhibit, construction continues on the Principal Pavilion, an educational and viewing area that will give a new view to the giraffe exhibit that will open later this summer. In other areas of the Zoo, construction is continuing on a new holding and winter viewing building for the penguins and Aldabra tortoises, and construction will soon to begin on a Bactrian camel exhibit that will be located just north of the Zoo in Blank Park.