The Houston Zoo launches $150 million campaign, unveils multi-species exhibit plans

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The Houston Zoo launched a $150 million centennial fundraising campaign and unveiled plans for several new multi-species habitats during an event at the zoo’s historic Reflection Pool, April 5.

The Houston Zoo will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022. The zoo first began a strategic planning process in 2016, which created a 20-year master plan for the zoo and identified eight strategic priorities for zoo officials to focus on.

During Thursday’s event, Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo president and CEO, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Zoo campaign co-chairs Cullen Geiselman and Joe Cleary announced their vision for the zoo over the next five years and revealed a new visual identity.

“We aim to redefine what a zoo can be with beautiful and immersive habitats, compelling guest experiences and an unyielding commitment to saving wildlife,” Ehmke said in a statement. “I invite you to join me on this thrilling journey to build the world-class zoo Houston deserves. Together, we will keep our world wild.”

In the campaign, nearly half of the zoo’s acreage will be redeveloped by 2022 and $5 million of campaign funds will be dedicated to conservations projects. Zoo officials announced that more than $102 million had already been secured for the campaign through individual, foundation and corporate contributions, in addition to the zoo’s own cash flows.

The project will include four phases including “Heart of the Zoo,” “Pantanal: Trail of the Jaguar,” “Ancient Relatives Phase I” and “Galapagos Islands, North Entry, and Reflections.”

In the Heart of the Zoo phase, the Cypress Circle Cafe will be transformed into a signature gathering place in late 2018; the Texas Wetlands habitat featuring alligators, bald eagles, whooping cranes, turtles and waterfowl will be completed in Spring 2019; and the orangutan and bear habitats will be enhanced.

Zoo officials said the Texas Wetlands exhibit will engage visits in the zoo’s breeding, monitoring, rehabilitation and release programs with local species of birds, reptiles, bats and pollinators. Students will also be able to connect with the exhibit through hands-on, in-the-field conservation work experienced through zoo-led education programs.

Pantanal: Trail of the Jaguar will be completed in 2020 and will feature a lush South American wetland with jaguars, monkeys, giant river otters, capybaras, birds and tapirs. The phase will also include a Shaded Animal Encounter Hacienda for informal presentations with ambassador animals and zoo staff.

According to zoo officials, the zoo partners with on-the-ground conservationists in South and Central America to study and protect jaguars, macaws, tapirs and other Pantanal inhabitants. The exhibit is expected to strengthen the zoo’s conservation investment by offering visitors and students a more immersive, engaging experience of this ecosystem.

Ancient Relatives Phase I will feature a bird garden with interactive bird feeding opportunities for guests; a new avian conservation center with many birds relocated into new, lushly landscaped aviaries, which will later include an expansion of bird, reptile and amphibian exhibits; and a new incubation and rearing room that allows for behind-the-scenes experiences.

The exhibit will support the zoo’s breeding programs for rare curassows and macaws, as well as the program to breed and release Attwater’s prairie chickens, a local endangered species, zoo officials said. The phase should be completed by 2021.

The last announced phase, Galapagos Islands, North Entry and Reflections, is slated for completion by 2022 and will include a unique Galapagos exhibit featuring sea lions, sharks, giant tortoises and other species; a new arrival plaza; a new Reflections event hall and terrace; a new casual cafe; and enhancements to the historic Reflection Pool and garden area.

For more information about the Houston Zoo Centennial Campaign, click here.

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Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.
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