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Maryland Zoo in Baltimore announces plans for new exhibits, animals in the years ahead – Baltimore Sun

On Tuesday, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore unveiled a master plan for its next decade, including plans to add new animals and exhibits and improve parking.

The most noticeable change for the zoo in the years ahead will be relocating more animal exhibits closer to the zoo’s front entrance, said Kirby Fowler, the zoo’s president and CEO.

“Today, you can arrive at the zoo, you walk in and you’ll see prairie dogs and a snowy owl. But that’s all you see in a 15-minute walk from the front gate to the main part of the zoo,” Fowler said. “So, it’s our job now to turn our attention to the front part of the zoo.”

The vision includes a new Gateway Building near the front gate, likely to feature indoor and outdoor habitats for amphibians and reptiles, including possible new additions like the Gila monster and Asian water monitor, according to the master plan. The goal is to build the building around 2029, according to the plan.

That building could also showcase the zoo’s work with the Panamanian golden frog, Fowler said. The zoo is a leading institution working to reintroduce the frogs into their native habitat.

“Many people do not know we have that critical role,” Fowler said. “Having a Gateway Building that reflects our work with reptiles and amphibians is very important.”

Just across from the new building could be a new exhibit for gibbons, small apes known for using their long arms to swing from tree to tree. The exhibit is poised to include four islands separated by water, and connected by a series of ropes overhead, which the gibbons could use to navigate between them. According to the master plan, the exhibit could be constructed in 2025.

“Some of these animals were zoo favorites a decade or two ago, like the gibbon — and we want to bring those back,” Fowler said. ”Their call is—in my opinion—beautiful. It’s loud, but they’re fun primates to observe.”

The zoo also hopes to reinvigorate its Main Valley, an area adjacent to the park entrance that was closed to guests for 17 years before reopening in 2021, partially as a place to view old animal enclosures.

The zoo plans to keep some of those old enclosures for historical purposes, but also add new habitats to the area, including a raptor habitat highlighting the Steller’s sea eagle. The old elephant house, which hasn’t housed animals in more than 20 years, is poised to be renovated as an event and education space.

The zoo also hopes to improve guests’ experiences in the coming years by adding features like a ropes course or zipline, a project pegged for 2026.

Later this year, the zoo will also begin construction work to improve and expand its parking areas for guests, according to the master plan. The master plan described the existing parking area as “undersized,” adding that “due to potholes and ruts, the surface has become challenging upon which to walk, drive, or push a stroller or wheelchair.”

The zoo has secured state funding to implement a new stormwater management system in the parking area starting in the spring of 2023, in order to better control the water flowing off the lot and toward the Jones Falls, according to the master plan. The zoo is still fundraising for many of its other efforts, including some of the new habitats and buildings, Fowler said.

“It’s not as exciting as bringing new species and habitats to the zoo, but we’ve had a lot of complaints about our parking lot,” Fowler said.

The zoo is also hoping to make sustainability improvements in the years ahead, including by adding a greenhouse to grow certain food items on-site, by increasing composting and by reducing its use of energy for buildings, Fowler said. The zoo has already instituted a “no idling” policy for vehicles driven by employees, and started a relationship with the Compost Crew to compost some of its food waste, Fowler said. The zoo has a goal of becoming “zero waste” by 2025.

The zoo’s newly released master plan also includes a number of initiatives focused on employees. The zoo is currently searching for a director of diversity, equity, access and inclusivity, who would evaluate the zoo’s ability to attract diverse staff members and guests. It is also evaluating its employee compensation, Fowler said.

The master plan also includes the construction of new office space for staff, including a building near the African Journey area.

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“We’ve got employees who work in these 20-year-old trailers that are in really bad condition,” Fowler said. “So that’s one of the important projects.”

Some animals, such as the snowy owl and eagle, are also poised to receive new habitats in the coming years, per the master plan.

The zoo’s eagle, who previously suffered neurological injuries, doesn’t fly much, but Fowler said she is “starting to glide.”

“Let’s see where she goes after that, so we want to provide a better and larger habitat for her,” he said. That could happen next year.

The zoo’s grizzly bears could also see their habitat expanded, according to the master plan. A trail would be added connecting them to additional open-air habitat space, the plan states. That could happen in 2026.

It’s a careful balance, Fowler said, between enhancing the livelihoods of the creatures already in the zoo’s care and working to add more animals.

“We’ve got to take care of some of our existing animals, but it’s exciting to be thinking about new species and habitats,” Fowler said.

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