A New Exhibit with Wellness-Inspired Design
 
Coming 2018

In addition to building new exhibits at the Zoo, sometimes we are lucky enough to remodel and upgrade older, outdated sections. Well that’s exactly the opportunity being provided to us by our outstanding Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Board of Directors and our visionary Executive Director, Tony Vecchio.

We are excited to overhaul and enhance the area currently known as the “Great Apes Loop,” home to our gorillas, bonobos, mandrills, and lemurs. Nearly 20 years old and in serious need of a facelift, it’s an area largely missing of the kind of complexity, variation and aesthetic details that our guests have come to expect from the Zoo, and we’ve come to demand of ourselves.



Demolition began in the Summer and the area will have partial or complete closings until mid-2018. During that time, the animals may not always be visible, but the outcome will be transformative for all primates involved; non-human and human alike!

From the moment guests approach the new “African Forest” entryway, they will be captivated by a magnificent 40-foot buttressed tropical tree. This iconic tree will serve as the heart and hub of the new exhibit. Enveloped in lightweight, super-strong woven mesh, the tree will be accessed by several aerial trails like those in Land of the Tiger and will be time-shared by the different species. The interior of the massive trunk will be accessible to staff via a circular stairway so that keepers may study and attend to their charges.



A brand-new bonobo house and two large outdoor mesh-covered, naturalistic habitats will be constructed where the lemur and mandrill exhibits currently stand. Lemurs, too, will be getting a new habitat, and the gorillas and mandrills will enjoy totally remodeled and refurbished enclosures. 

Enclosing the bonobo yards will allow guests to view apes at grade level rather than from above. Within these covered exhibits, the bonobos will now have the chance to choose an after-dark visit to their habitat and view the night sky if they wish.


Building in choices, challenges, and variation is a key element of wellness-inspired design and a foundational principle of the new African Forest. With the help of a small force of dedicated students, guides, and volunteers, our Animal Wellness Department gathers and analyzes observational and behavioral data. This data was applied to the design of African Forest with the goal of creating environments in which animals thrive.

Animals are “talking” to us all the time, but it’s up to us to discover new ways to listen and to showcase their aptitude. Using computerized, cognitive learning stations or “Think Pods,” the apes will be able to communicate via symbols, shapes and colors. Even complex concepts such as preference and spatial awareness can be conveyed in this manner.
Animals reason, remember, and employ what they learn, and it will be the animals helping us understand their own needs, capabilities, and capacities.


With African Forest, we are combining the best in exhibit design, research, animal wellness, and interpretation; pushing our boundaries and charting a new zoo path. We aim to deliver a full and comprehensive experience for our animals, guests, and staff, and in the process, produce one more revolutionary, world-class habitat. Wish us luck!

DONATIONS PAVE THE WAY - The support of individuals, foundations and corporations fuel the growth that continue to make the jacksonville Zoo and Gardens an outstanding community resource. To learn more about how you can support the African Forest, please contact Janet Wesley at wesleyj@jacksonvillezoo.org

Wild for Gorillas