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Out Of Africa: Zoo Boise to Tame Ambitious Wildlife Project

Gorongosa National Park would be modeled after world-famous reserve in Mozambique.

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UPDATE: Citydesk, Feb. 6, 2012

Zoo Boise Briefs City Officials on Some Wild Plans

The only thing missing was a chorus of "Hakuna Matata."

With images of baboons, cheetahs, crocodiles, monkeys and warthogs staring them down, the Boise City Council was briefed late Tuesday on Zoo Boise's plans for the next decade and beyond.

"We're looking for permission to move forward," said Steve Burns, Zoo Boise director, unveiling a proposed capital plan, construction sequencing and a dramatic change to the zoo's footprint in Julia Davis Park. "We're just like the movies. We have to change if we want to stay relevant."

The plans include a redesign of the front area of the zoo, opening it into more public space, and the creation of a so-called "sprayground," where children can romp through technicolor columns of sprouting water.

But the most ambitious project would be the creation of Gorongosa National Park, a 2-acre site modeled after the iconic preserve in Mozambique, and the inclusion of East African animals, including cheetahs and crocodiles.

"Construction could begin in 2016 and could be completed by 2017," said Burns.

The proposal also includes some new "special" attractions in the works, including animatronic dinosaurs that will visit the zoo this year and a balloonfest to visit the zoo in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Burns said the zoo would also like to introduce another free day on the zoo's calendar and the offering of special scholarships for children and their families who struggle to pay admission fees.

ORIGINAL STORY: Feb. 6, 2012

Officials at Zoo Boise aren't ready to make a public announcement, but behind the walls of the popular destination planners have been busy crafting an ambitious 10-year plan that would increase the zoo's footprint in Julia Davis Park while dialing up its wildlife conservation efforts half a world away.

"We're doing some of the quiet work," Zoo Boise Executive Director Steve Burns told Boise Weekly. "There are a million moving pieces."

Perhaps the biggest moving piece would be the creation of Gorongosa National Park at Zoo Boise, modeled after the world-famous 1,500-square-mile reserve in Mozambique.

"At one point, it had the highest density of wildlife in all of Africa," said Burns.

But a long civil war at the end of the 20th century ravaged the East African nation, including the park that was at the center of the conflict.

If all goes as planned, Zoo Boise would construct its own Gorongosa using one acre of grassy event space near the back of the zoo complex and an additional acre just beyond its current boundary, toward the Julia Davis Park tennis courts.

"The Julia Davis master plan actually gives the zoo an additional five acres, but we'll take just one acre for this project," said Burns.

The $3 million Gorongosa Park has a projected construction date of 2017, but is only one of several ambitious changes to Zoo Boise, including a new visitors welcome center and an extensive Asia exhibit.

The Gorongosa Park would introduce many new animals to zoo-goers: cheetahs, hyenas, crocodiles, baboons and wild African dogs.

And the success of Boise's Gorongosa would fuel conservation efforts at Mozambique's park.

"Part of the funds that we collect goes toward putting animals back into the wild," Burns said. "It's a perfect conservation project."

But for now, Burns needs commitment and direction from city officials.

"We're not ready to go public just yet," he said. "But we certainly have to first go before the Mayor and the Council."

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