The San Diego Zoo broke ground Wednesday on the largest renovation in its history, a $68-million, 8-acre project to turn Dog and Cat Canyon into a modern African habitat.
“This is a very special time for your world-famous San Diego Zoo,” said Robert Horsman, chairman of San Diego Zoo Global, noting to applause that Trip Advisor last week named it the best zoo in the world.
The Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks exhibit will include Penguin Beach and the Rady Madagascar Habitat and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2017. A gently winding pathway will lead guests through different types of African habitats with native mammals, reptiles, birds and plant life.
“You’re looking at the happiest guy in the world right now, ” said Prebys, a philanthropist who has underwritten many San Diego projects, after an African crested porcupine helped break ground. “This is a happy time and you’re in the greatest zoo in the world.”
The renovation will replace old-fashioned grottos and cages that in some cases date to the 1930s. Instead of the “old style where you view from a static point and look in,” the new design ensures that “the visitor is immersed in the landscape,” said staff architect Steve Fobes.
“African Rocks is a start. It’s the start of our second 100 years,” said Douglas Myers, president and CEO of the zoo. “We have bold new plans for the future for the world famous San Diego Zoo to ensure that it stays world famous.”
More than 4,500 individual donors contributed to the project, beginning with a gift of $11 million from Prebys. Philanthropist Ernest Rady provided a $10 million matching gift challenge in 2013 that resulted in individual donors giving more than $20 million.
Dan and Vi McKinney, gave $5 million for the creation of an African penguin habitat. The zoo is home to two African penguins, and this number will grow considerably when Penguin Beach opens, and the Zoo begins its participation in an international survival plan for these endangered aquatic birds.
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