The Essex County Turtle Back , one of about 200 zoos accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) out of over 2,000 in the country, received its second five-year accreditation period, certifying it to be a quality zoo that cares about both its animals and patrons.
“It allows us to get some of the rarest animals around,” explains Jeremy Goodman, zoo director and vet. Without accreditation, the zoo would not be able to boast its large range of animals ranging from the red panda to the gibbons, the most popular animals at the zoo. They also would not have been able to get their rarest addition, Megan, an amur leopard.
The AZA also makes recommendations on breeding exercises to create a sustainable, healthy animal populations and also to make sure that each potential animal will have a home when needed.
They also increase genetic diversity amongst the animals by occasionally bringing in wild animals or the semen of wild animals, thus preventing inbreeding and allowing for healthier animals.
“So many people still think we’re capturing animals in the wild and putting them in the zoo,” states Goodman. However, the wild animals that the zoo houses are ones that have been rescued or rehabilitated after an injury and are unable to be released.
Since its’ inception in 1963, the zoo has been working on its mission to educate the public about nature and about animals.
“People come here to have fun… we’re here for our guests.” The zoo “sneaks in education” through fun methods. Their carousel is composed of endangered animals rather than ponies and unicorns. The ride operator is taught what each animal is and some facts so that the riders can ask questions and learn more about what they are riding.
Outside the gibbons’ exhibit, boxes labeled Tam-Ring give the area a diverse flair while also prompting zoo visitors to learn that Tam-Ring means “to conserve” in Thai.
Even the Tree Top Rope Adventure, recently re-opened for the season on March 24, has a secret educational mission. The zoo hopes to get children involved, active outside and realize that this is the same method that some explorers and researchers use in order to learn more about animals in the wild.
During the 1990s, the zoo almost closed down but public outcry persuaded the County to invest in the public area and save the animals. The Essex County Turtle Back Zoo recognized the need to be self-sustaining so, since then, have adopted a business-like model for the zoo. Attendance has gone up every year for the last seven years. Now, revenue is higher than the expenses, which the zoo puts back towards its programming and its patrons.
As the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo prepares their sea lion and stingray exhibit and 50th anniversary for 2013, “The Golden Age of Turtle Back Zoo,” they also keep their sights set on the upcoming spring and summer 2012 season. They will be starting with a wolf birthday Sat, April 14, followed by Party for the Planet on April 22.
“We’re in the happy business here,” states Goodman.
Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr, Essex County executive, states, “Our family of animals from five continents and our nature-themed attractions captivate the attention and imagination of our visitors and re-enforce the importance of animals, the environment and conservation. Named as the best zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine for the third consecutive year and having earned our second five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Turtle Back Zoo is a unique place where learning and fun happen together.”
Those interested in the zoo can visit them at 560 Northfield Ave, West Orange, NJ 07052, view their website at http://www.turtlebackzoo.org/tbzoo/index.jsp or call at (973) 731-5800. Beginning April 1, they are open M-Sa 10am-4:30pm, Sun 11am-5:30pm. Tickets cost $10 for adults, $7 for children and seniors and is free for children under two years old.