Zoo's Encounter Africa exhibit gets its $13.5 million

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Call it elephant-sized good news: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has finished fundraising for its biggest project to date.

With generous gifts from the Anschutz and El Pomar foundations, the zoo has reached its goal of $13.5 million to build Encounter Africa, according to president and CEO Bob Chastain.

Wilgruen Elephant Center
  • Molly Mrazel
  • Wilgruen Elephant Center, named after a donor.

The capital campaign to raise funds for the new exhibit began in fall 2009. There have been 345 individual gifts, along with larger gifts from foundations. There was also the "Bank On It" campaign, which the Indy wrote about here.

On Thursday morning, I had the privilege of touring the barn. When the exhibit opens in late fall of this year, guests will be able to view the elephants from a balcony that overlooks the holding stalls; they will also see them from the outdoor exhibit and demonstration areas.

Wilgruen Elephant Center

While on the ground floor, the previewers and I were told by Jason Bredahl, elephant animal care manager, that the yellow line on the floor was called "the splash zone." This is due to the fact that rhinos can spray their urine up to 15 feet.

Wilgruen Elephant Center jason Bredahl
  • Molly Mrazek
  • Jason Bredahl giving a tour. (Notice the yellow line for the 'splash zone.')

The holding stalls in the barn each have their own unique draw. One has a rubber floor with radiant heat above and below, while another has a pole in the middle that has a barrel attached to it for the elephants to play with. The middle stall has an all sand floor with a boulder to scratch on, and a cement tree with two feeding options: a bottom section for hay, and a top portion into which guests can drop food. (Bredahl says elephants eat 120 pounds of food a day, so chances of overeating are fairly remote.)

Outside the barn, there's a exercise path and a private outdoor area with about three acres of grass and trees for the elephants to enjoy. In front of the barn, there will be a waterfall feature where the elephants can bathe in a cascade of water, or submerge themselves in the pool.

Cheyenne mountain zoo wilgruen elephant center

Because of the new exhibit, the zoo is able to host two black rhinos, whose species is critically endangered. Both the elephants and rhinos will be able to roam outdoors and will have separate demonstration areas. The rhinos, for example, will have the option to meet and greet the guests, and even accept a scrub.

I had a close encounter with their newest of the four elephants, Jamba Jambo, a 28-year-old girl weighing 8,000 pounds. Her name means "Hello" in Swahili, and she certainly lived up to it by peeking through the bars and sticking her trunk out for treats.

cheyenne mountain zoo wilgruen elephant center jambo

With the coffers now full and the elephants seemingly content, here's a quick look at the final piece of the project — construction — courtesy of a zoo press release.

Encounter Africa Construction Update

Phase 1: Elephant Barn
Complete
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s herd of four female elephants moved into their brand new barn in the fall of 2011. Because the area surrounding the new barn is a construction zone, the elephants are currently off exhibit to the general public until the second phase is complete.

Phase 2: Outdoor Exhibit
Fall 2012
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s old elephant barn was demolished in the fall of 2011 and crews are now focusing on the outdoor elephant and meerkat exhibits, including mud wallows, a waterfall, and a bush plane cantilevered from the top of the exhibit for guest viewing. The critically endangered black rhinoceros will also be added to the collection.

Phase 3: Lion Exhibit
Summer 2013
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s pride of African lions will move across the street from their current home to a larger exhibit in Encounter Africa.

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