The San Diego Zoo broke ground Wednesday on a major, $68 million project: an 8-acre space that will be transformed into the new “Africa Rocks” exhibit with a habitat for African plant and animal species.
The largest expansion in the famous zoo’s 99-year history, the Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks exhibit will take over an area once known as “Cat and Dog Canyon.” The transformation will replace 1930s-era grottos and enclosures with new habitats for African species that range from savanna to shore.
San Diego Zoo officials plan to open the exhibit in 2017.
The attraction will include a gently winding, ADA-accessible pathway that leads guests through different types of African habitats, including a West African forest, acacia woodlands, Ethiopian highlands, kopje gardens and a Madagascar habitat.
Renderings of the exhibit were also released Wednesday, as seen in the photo gallery above.
Zoo officials say the project is being funded with a $11 million donation from Conrad Prebys, plus donations from more than 6,500 other individuals. In 2013, Ernest Rady donated $10 million to the exhibit and issued a challenge that resulted in 3,800 individual donors giving more than $20 million toward the project, officials said.
Dan and Vi McKinney donated $5 million for an African penguin habitat within the exhibit. Other donations have come from corporations, private foundations and estates, the zoo says.
Africa Rock will be home to mammals, reptiles, birds and plant life native to Africa.
This includes hamadryas and gelada baboons, vervet monkeys and lemurs. Other mammals in the exhibit will include southern ratel, fossa and an African leopard. There will also be an aviary. Dwarf crocodiles, Agama lizards and spurred tortoises will fill the reptile habitats.
The zoo will also relocate several old-growth trees into the area, including a ficus and sausage tree, officials said. Other African-native plants in the exhibit will include acacia, aloe, Madagascar ocotillo and palms.
A penguin beach area will house African penguins as the San Diego Zoo partakes in an international species survival plan for these endangered aquatic birds. The zoo is currently home to two African penguins that live in the Children’s Zoo area.
Douglas Myers, president and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global says the exhibit will be designed to tell a story, and “help connect people to wildlife.”
”We want Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks to showcase Africa, where wildlife and habitat are being threatened like never before,” said Myers.
In true animal-friendly zoo fashion, an African-crested porcupine had the honor of taking the first dig at the groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, officials said.