Big Year for the Zoo

In 2015, zoo goers will be treated to more than $17 million in renovations and upgrades.
Photo Courtesy of Audubon Zoo

Audubon Zoo has been busy shuffling things around and building new exhibits in a major reconstruction of the popular attraction that has been pulling crowds for over a century. Throughout 2015, the zoo will slowly unveil the redesign and introduce visitors to a whole new level of interaction with their beloved residents.

Watoto Walk
Opened to the public in December 2014 at a cost of $250,000, the 3,000 square-foot petting zoo, located across from the giraffes in the zoo’s African Savanna, resembles a Kenyan Masai village with free roaming goats and sheep.

Kamba Kourse
Just next door is the Kamba Kourse, a 44-foot tall structure featuring three levels of rope elements and an obstacle course geared to all ages. Opening March 1, 2015, the Kamba Kourse costs an extra $15 for adults and $8 for children. Audubon members receive a 10 percent discount.
“The Kamba Kourse is run by an outside contractor, so there are no construction costs to us, but it is a shared revenue,” says Larry Rivarde, executive vice president and managing director at Audubon Zoo and Park.

The Asian Domain
The zoo’s most anticipated exhibit redesign is the $10 million reconstruction of the Asian Domain. Panya and Jean, the zoo’s resident elephants, will be welcomed into a new 42,000- square-foot enclosure early this summer that includes shade trees, two pools and a barn that is designed to house up to four elephants.
Filling the elephants’ former digs, the orangutans will be moved from their current home in the World of Primates. The enlarged spaces put Audubon Zoo in the position to obtain a few more orangutans and two more elephants, which it is hoping to do in the near future.
“We are not expanding the actual footprint of the zoo, we are just expanding inside the Zoo,” clarifies Rivarde. “For the Asian and elephant complex, a lot of the real estate we wound up securing was about an acre and a half from behind the scenes.”

Cool Zoo Expansion
In the first week of April, the Cool Zoo splash park will receive a refreshing addition: a 750-foot lazy river called “Gator Run” which will feature two sand beaches and three water cannons that can spray visitors as they float on inner tubes. This addition adds 44,000 square feet of space, bringing the Cool Zoo footprint to nearly 60,000 square feet.
The $5 million expansion will increase admission to the splash park from $8 to $12 for non-members and $6 to $10 for members.  
“You will be able to see the elephants along the lazy river, and toward the back of the current Cool Zoo area will be a huge glass encounter where you are a couple of feet from the elephants,” Rivarde says.  
Sea Lion Pool
Eager to show off its five sea lions, two of which are pups that they acquired in 2014, the zoo will soon include a Sea Lion Pool in early spring once modifications have been completed in the upper and lower pools at a cost of $2 million.

Who’s Paying the Tab?
Financed predominantly by State Capital Funding from the state of Louisiana, the reconstruction was augmented by private donations – either from fundraising events like Zoo-To-Do or through solicitation for certain projects.
“One of our goals is to increase revenue because 90 percent of our operating budget comes from self-generated revenue,” Rivarde says. “We also want to increase our attendance; we are always trying to get more expansive and diverse groups coming into our facilities, and any envelope we need to push to ensure that happens, we are always ready to do.”

Fun Fact

Eighty-five to 90 percent of visitors to the  Aquarium of the Americas are tourists, whereas the zoo is frequented primarily by visitors within driving distance.



Categories: The Magazine