Monthly Archives: July 2014

Free-Flight Bird Shows

Turtle Back Zoo is proud to present a weekend of Free-Flight Bird Shows!  Renowned avian specialist Phung Luu will be hosting special presentations to include owls, hawks, falcons, vulture, macaws, conures, and parrots.

Viewing is included with the purchase of general admission.

Showtimes are as follows:

Saturday, August 2nd – Shows at 11am and 2pm

Sunday, August 3rd – Shows at 12pm and 3pm

The Zoo’s New Education Center




12,000-Square-Foot Facility Will Provide Additional Classroom Space

and New Entrance into Zoo


West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. was joined by Governor Chris Christie at the opening of the new Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Education Building on Tuesday, July 15th. The new, 12,000-square-foot building provides four additional classrooms for educational programming and summer camps, exhibit areas and a second entrance to the Zoo for groups arriving by bus or individuals who park in the Park N Ride.


“There are so many phenomenal things that keep bringing people back to visit Turtle Back Zoo – from our dynamic natural habitat themed exhibits, to our hands-on attractions and over 100 species of animals,” DiVincenzo said. “This facility will assist us greatly in furthering our mission of promoting conservation and awareness about animals and the environment, as well as providing an improved experience for our visitors. It also will serve as a second entrance to the zoo, providing those arriving by bus a safer and more efficient entry into our facility,” he noted.


“This is another great resource that Essex County is making available to its residents and families. New Jersey needs more places like this,” Governor Chris Christie said. Last year, the Governor served as the Honorary Chair of Turtle Back Zoo’s 50th Anniversary Gala, which raised approximately $300,000 that was used toward the construction of the Education Center. “When I was growing up, Turtle Back Zoo was a great place to learn and have a good time. Joe DiVincenzo is emphasizing assets like this because of the positive impact they have on our communities,” he noted.


This 12,000-square-foot, two-story facility is situated in the eastern section of the zoo near the Treetop Adventure Course and Endangered Species Carousel. The first floor has four classrooms with moveable walls, enabling the size of the rooms to be changed, along with a large lobby, six exhibit areas, animal holding areas and storage rooms. The second floor is half the size of the first floor and has office space for the Zoo Director, Animal Curator and a conference/break room. A large portion of the second floor is an open-air space that can be used as an outdoor classroom. The second floor will have the Treetop Adventure Course as its view.


Educational programming for the new building is being underwritten with a 10-year grant from Millburn resident Marc E. Berson, Chairman of The Fidelco Group. “For my family, it’s the education that we can provide to our youth and the opportunities they otherwise would not have access to as to why we wanted to get involved here,” Berson said. “Essex County has a tremendous public park plan. Last month we were at a ribbon cutting in Branch Brook Park and today we are at Turtle Back Zoo. Joe DiVincenzo is making good on what our forefathers did and it’s a privilege to be a part of it,” he added.


In addition to providing space for educational programs, the new building will serve as a second entrance for groups arriving by bus and as the entry point for the Treetop Adventure Course. The second point of entry will relieve congestion at the original entrance.


The opening of the Education Center was welcomed by elected officials and staff at Turtle Back Zoo.


“This complex is the busiest place in the State of New Jersey on any given weekend with ten to fifteen thousand people coming here,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said. “It has become a destination attraction and it is one of the safest places because of the work by our sheriff’s officers,” he added.


“It is great what we are offering our children. We are making sure our residents are treated as they should, and the Freeholder Board supports the County Executive whenever he brings ideas like these to us,” Freeholder President Blonnie Watson said. “Projects like this are making Turtle Back Zoo the destination it has become,” she added.


“I care about the quality of life for our residents and this building will be an excellent educational facility for our students. In addition, it will enhance the safety of school children who come here by bus,” Freeholder Leonard Luciano said. “In my professional life, I am a school teacher in Newark, and our students absolutely love coming here,” he noted.


“The County Executive has quickly and beautifully enhanced Turtle Back Zoo and this entire complex. My community of West Orange is grateful for what has been done because it directly benefits us,” West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi said. “On behalf of my township, we congratulate the County Executive on another great project,” he added.


“The mission of Turtle Back Zoo is to promote excellence in wildlife education and that’s what this building is going to help us do,” Turtle Back Zoo Director Brint Spencer said. “The additional classroom space is a great opportunity for us to expand our educational and conservation programming,” he noted.


“Turtle Back Zoo has always been a special place and today we see its horizons expand with new educational programming. I am excited to see thousands of students learning to appreciate nature within this building and I’m appreciative of the Zoo’s ideals to conserve, educate and inspire,” Zoological Society Executive Director Adam Kerins said.


USA Architects from Newark received a professional services contract for $276,976 to design the building. Bismark Construction Corp. from Newark was awarded a publicly bid contract for $7,553,000 to perform the construction. The Essex County Department of Public Works worked with the contractors to address questions and keep the project on schedule. The project was paid for with grants from the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, a loan from the Essex County Improvement Authority’s Pooled Government Loan Program, funds from the Essex County Capital Budget and money raised from Turtle Back Zoo’s 50th Anniversary Gala held last year. The Zoological Society will repay the ECIA PGLP with annual contributions over the next five years. Construction began in September 2013 and was completed in 10 months.


In the past 10 years, Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has roared back to life from the verge of closure by a previous administration. Attendance at this beloved destination has increased from 168,739 in 2002 to 621,828 in 2013 and revenue topped $4 million for the first time in 2012. This has enabled the Zoo to operate as a self-sustaining facility with revenue collected exceeding operating expenses for the last four years. In addition, Turtle Back earned its second five-year accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2011, a clear indication that an institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education. It also has been named the Best Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine in each of the last three years and received a Certificate of Excellence from the last two years.


Current hours for the Zoo are Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is $11 for adults, $8 for children and senior citizens, and free for children younger than 2 years. For more information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit


Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo


Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $70 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; building the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit with sea lions, sharks and sting rays; the Big Cat Country Exhibit with Jaguars and Cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with Gibbons apes, Reeves muntjac and white naped cranes; Australian Exhibit that features kangaroos, wallabies, emus and over 500 birds in the Aviary; Reptile and Education Center, open air dining pavilion and playground, Penguin Exhibit, Otter Exhibit, Wolf Exhibit, Alligator Exhibit, North American Animal Exhibit, Black Bear Exhibit, Animal Hospital, Essex Farm Petting Zoo and South American Animal Exhibit; renovating the Food Pavilion for year-round use and making upgrades to the entrance as well as fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements. Funding has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Investors Bank, Prudential Financial, Inc., Wells Fargo (Wachovia Bank), PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy and OxyMagic carpet cleaning.


The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.


Parking Deck – Traffic Advisory


Construction of 500-car parking deck

Dear Visitor:

Thank you for choosing the Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex as your destination. Whether you are visiting our exhibits at Turtle Back Zoo, skating figure eights at our ice Arena, putting your way through Africa on our MiniGOLF Safari, paddle boating on the Orange Reservoir, having a bite to eat at McLoone’s Restaurant or strolling through the Reservation, our complex offers a relaxing time or wild adventure that is close to home!

Be aware that the on-site traffic pattern and parking availability at our main parking lot on Northfield Avenue has changed due to the construction of a new 500-car parking garage. This new facility is a much-needed addition that will enhance access to our attractions at the Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. It is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2015.

We apologize for any inconvenience and ask that you pardon our appearance while we update our complex to better serve you. If you have any questions, please contact Turtle Back Zoo Guest Relations at 973-731-5800, Ext. 0.


Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr.
Essex County Executive

For a PDF of this Message Please click here.

Family Fun Night!

Every Wednesday and Thursday during the summer, the Turtle Back Zoo remains open until 8 pm to allow families to come out to the zoo, enjoy live entertainment, a special dinner menu at our Zoo Cafe, and go wild with our animals!

Upcoming Events

  • February 20, 2017See the Seas Mini-Camp, Parts I and II
  • February 25, 2017 11:00 amSeasonal Job Fair
  • February 25, 2017 2:00 pmSOLD OUT - Zoo Behind the Scenes: Giraffe House
  • February 26, 2017 2:00 pmMembers Only- Zoo Behind the Scenes: Giraffe House
  • March 4, 2017 12:00 pmSummer Camp Open House
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