'Progress Is Possible'

Zoo Boise unveils Gorongosa exhibit, touts conservation efforts


  • Courtesy Zoo Boise

It felt a lot like a steamy African afternoon—the perfect kind of day to unveil Zoo Boise's new Gorongosa National Park exhibit, which opened, July 17. People buzzed with excitement for the 20 new species hailing from the African park and animal sanctuary now call Boise home.

The zoo's support for Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique has been steady since 2008, when the zoo first donated a large chunk of money to help stabilize its animal population.

"We try to tell the story of Gorongosa with this exhibit," said the Director of Zoo Boise Gene Peacock. "We tell the story of conservation and how we can make an impact with the animals and their environment."

The exhibit includes a warthog pen, an aviary, a connected African wild dog and hyena enclosure and the riveting EO Wilson Science and Exhibit Hall, which held baboons, otters, an enclosure for the Nile crocodile and vervet monkeys—all of it there to showcase the special relationship between Zoo Boise and Gorongosa with a special eye toward conservation. The issue has been an important part of the zoo's actions since it implemented a revolutionary $.50 conservation fee tacked onto the sale of every ticket.

"[It] was a huge leap of faith by our department... To take a portion of our funds and actually use that to walk the walk we've been talking has been so important." said Director of Parks and Recreation Doug Holloway.

The funds support conservation efforts in Idaho and around the globe. Just recently, in 2016, Zoo Boise committed to donating $200,000 over 5 years to restore and preserve the Boise Foothills. Just like the efforts being made at home in Boise, the zoo is making sure that the park can once again thrive.

"Gorongosa National Park lost almost all of its wildlife in a generation of civil war," said philanthropist and entrepreneur Greg Carr. "The government of Mozambique asked me and my friends if we'd help them, and when I say my friends that includes Zoo Boise. Fourteen years later you drive around Gorongosa and everywhere you look there is wildlife."

The exhibit has been a long time in the making. It took substantial fundraising efforts and work to make it a reality. The City of Boise contributed $2.3 million to aid the zoo's plans, which grew to $10 million with the help of others in the community.

The planning didn't stop at funding. The exhibit was designed not only to show off animals native to Mozambique, but to educate visitors about life in and around Gorongosa National Park.

"Now, Gorongosa is not just about wildlife, it's about the people who live next door. It's surrounded by a couple hundred thousand wonderful Mozambiquans, there's a lot of children and there's one hundred primary schools around the park," said Carr. "Our goal is to help every one of those primary schools. We run after school programs and we help teachers which is critical."

The vision for the Gorongosa exhibit at Zoo Boise took a lot of planning but it has features like heated pools and double-sided enclosures to ensure that visitors can enjoy the animals even as the weather cools.

"These exhibits were designed with welfare in mind. Visitors are going to be able to see these animals year round, indoor and outdoor," said Peacock. "We use mulch because it's better for the animals. It's easier on their feet and their hips. And it's more environmentally friendly because we don't use as much water to hose down the exhibits as we have to with concrete."

The animal enclosures were meticulously designed with an eye to their impact on the environment and the community. It was important for everyone involved in the design of the exhibit that Boisians could understand the impact of the conservation fee. A little over a decade ago, Gorongosa National Park had been ravaged by years of war and left almost bereft of wildlife.

"We did a census this year from a helicopter and we counted one hundred thousand large animals. Progress is possible," said Carr. "Seven hundred elephants, a thousand buffalo, five hundred hippos, one hundred fifty lions. We hear a lot of bad news in the world about wildlife numbers going down and national parks having trouble but it's important to remember that progress is possible. And it's important to remember that optimistic people can make things better and Idaho is full of optimistic people."