AP NEWS

Scottsbluff zoo renovates habitat for new chimpanzees

January 20, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (AP) — For two years, the Riverside Discovery Center has been making improvements in front of and behind the scenes as well as bringing in new animals for the public to learn about. The zoo is now set to embark on another significant, long-term change to bring further enjoyment to the visiting public.

Last fall, Sarah, a chimpanzee, died. She was 48, which is considered a long life for her species. Scooter, 26, a male chimpanzee that Sarah helped raise, was left alone. After several meetings between the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ species survival program director and Zoo Director Anthony Mason, it was determined that Scooter needed to be with other chimpanzees. As social animals, it was not a good idea for him to spend significant time alone. Scooter now lives in the Houston zoo.

The decision also brought the opportunity for a new troop of chimpanzees, which are expected to arrive this spring. Mason had hoped to make some improvements to the chimpanzee enclosure over the winter, but had an opportunity appear to completely redo the area. An anonymous donor stepped forward with funds to be specifically applied to redoing the chimpanzee area.

“The funds we received for the renovations is not money from the bears,” Mason told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald . “This (donation) was specifically earmarked for chimpanzee habitat improvements.”

The new bear enclosure is another fundraising campaign and the two are not connected in any way.

“We are still fundraising for the bear exhibit,” he said.

In preparation for the new arrivals, staff at the zoo have been working on some renovations on the inside space. The project will be done in multiple parts. In the indoor enclosure, the previous wooden structures have been removed as have the large rocks. The concrete on the inside will also be removed followed by the dirt floor underneath.

“We’re bringing in new chimps, but we are doing other things to make it more serviceable and enjoyable for the animals and the public,” he said.

Some of the renovation work is being done by zoo staff, but Anderson Shaw Construction will do construction work that is not possible for zoo staff. The donation has allowed Mason and his staff to begin improvements they weren’t sure they would ever be able to do.

“We’re thrilled about this donation,” he said. “This will allow us to make much needed improvements to the inside habitat and make more space for the chimpanzees as well as other quality of life improvements.”

The indoor chimpanzee exhibit will have new windows with more viewing area. The lighting will be replaced. Currently, the ceilings are dark black, giving a dark view of everything. New windows, lighting and paint should alleviate the issue.

“We want to give it a different vibe and make it something children enjoy more,” Mason said. “Emotionally, we want people to walk in and feel happy.”

While this donation is specifically for the chimpanzee exhibit, Mason hopes to be able to redo some other areas in the inside area that connects to the chimpanzee indoor enclosure.

“We want to make improvements in all the public areas to make it better for visitors year-round,” he said.

As with everything, there is no spare money, but with in-house work, plans are for new flooring in the public area of the indoor enclosure, which connects the chimpanzees, tigers and lions, as well as brighter paint to make the area more welcoming.

“There has been a list of things to do in there for a while,” he said. “We will try to do everything we can and have it done in spring to look great for all our visitors.”

During renovation, some animals will be off exhibit. To thank visitors for their patronage, admission rates have been discounted. Visitors over 65 will be $4.50, ages 13-64 are $5.50, ages 5-12 will be $3.50, ages 2-4 will be $1.75 and children 1 and under are free.

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Information from: Star-Herald, http://www.starherald.com