Turtle Back Zoo logo
Entrance to the Turtle Back Zoo
|Location||West Orange, New Jersey, United States|
|No. of animals||nearly more than 850|
|Annual visitors||755,000 (2015)|
Turtle Back Zoo is a zoo in West Orange, New Jersey as part of the South Mountain Recreation Complex. Situated on 20 acres (8.1 ha) in the South Mountain Reservation, it is part of the Essex County Park System, the oldest county park system in the United States. Founded in 1963, the zoo was originally a showcase for animals indigenous to New Jersey, but currently features species from every continent except Antarctica. As of 2016, it houses approximately 1400 animals, including several hundred birds in a free-flight aviary. Located adjacent to the Richard J. Codey Arena, former practice home of the New Jersey Devils, the zoo is open year-round.
Turtle Back Zoo, which took its name from a nearby rock formation, opened in 1963 with a collection of 140 animals representing 40 species. It was originally opened seasonally and had a Hans Christian Andersen "storybook theme," with such exhibits as "a giant piggy bank, the ABC house, [and] the pirates' ship". By 1973 the zoo was home to 850 animals representing 275 species.
In 2000, a cage left open at Turtle Back Zoo allowed a zebra, Walnuts, to escape. That same year, the zoo created a master plan with the objective of improving the zoo enough to receive accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Between 2003 and 2006, Turtle Back received approximately $20 million in funding, which was used to improve the facilities, and in 2006 the zoo received its first accreditation. New facilities included the Essex County Animal Hospital on zoo grounds, and a new 11,000-square-foot (1,000 m2) entrance/administrative complex with a 4,000-square-foot (370 m2) reptile center, classrooms, and an auditorium.
In 2016, zoo attendance exceeded 700,000 visitors for the first time in its history.
Exhibits include an American black bear exhibit; the Essex Farm, which holds common farm animals and includes a petting zoo; and the Tropical Currents Aquarium, which exhibits fish from around the world in six large tanks; African Adventure which exhibits Masai giraffe, Common Eland, Ostrich, White-faced whistling duck and Bontebok.
The $4.6 million reptile house and education center, the zoo's first indoor exhibit, opened in June 2006. When the 4,000-square-foot (370 m2) reptile center opened, it contained a pair of nine-foot-long "black dragons", a species of monitor lizard which was discovered in Malaysia in 2005 and has yet to receive a scientific name. The Reptile House's main exhibit now contains a komodo dragon an animal born by parthenogenesis.
The gibbon habitat contains a 11,000-square-foot (1,000 m2) outdoor mesh tent habitat that is home to the zoos two gibbons. This $1.8 million exhibit was opened in 2009.
This exhibit features an 82,000-gallon pool for sea lions and a 1,600-gallon touch tank for sting rays, along with space for education programs and special events. This $5.5 million exhibit was opened in 2013.
The exhibit features cougars and jaguars and has a Southwest United States theme. The animals' area has rock outcroppings, a waterfall and indigenous Southwest plantings. Viewing areas resemble a southwest mine or cave and stamped concrete pathways for visitors resemble a southwest trail. The big cat area has an indoor winter refuge area for the animals and secure holding areas. It also is being used as a breeding facility. This $3 million exhibit was opened in 2011.
In May 2016 the zoo opened their three-acre African Adventure attraction. The $7 million addition is designed to mimic an African Savannah and contains four Masai giraffes. In addition the exhibit contains: eland, whistling ducks, ostriches, zebras, and tortoises. In spring 2017 the exhibit will include lions and hyenas, as part of a $3.6 million expansion.
The zoo has the narrow gauge Turtle Back Junction train ride, carousel, and a playground. The trains were originally Iron Horse Trains by Allan Herschell, but were replaced in 1984 and 1999 by C. P. Huntington trains by Chance Rides. The carousel opened in 2008 and is in a large gazebo. On September 25, 2010, the Turtle Back Zoo opened the Turtle Back Zoo Safari Mini Golf course. Designed by French & Parrello Associates, P.A., the miniature golf course replicates three African regions: the Sahara Desert, the African Grasslands, and the Congo located to the center is Mount Kilimanjaro. The miniature golf course consists of 19 holes and contains various animal sculptures, such as a camel, an elephant, a gorilla, a lion and more. In September 2011, the zoo opened the Treetop Adventure Ropes Course. All the zoo's attractions are part of the South Mountain Recreation Complex.
In 2015, the railroad received a brand new locomotive as part of a program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's death on April 18.