Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Encounter Africa $13 million exhibit under construction

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Construction is underway for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's Encounter Africa exhibit, which includes a new barn for the African elephants.

The elephants at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo are spending their days exploring their new multi-million home.

A new elephant barn is part of the Encounter Africa exhibit, which is under construction now. Encounter Africa, when complete, will be home to the African elephants, African lions and black rhinos. All told it is a $13.5 million project, the biggest in the zoo’s history, said Jean Gordon, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo director of marketing. The project is expected to be complete in 2013.

“They are getting a dream home,” she said. “We are so excited about it.”

Encounter Africa will include a new plaza area featuring a traditional African tent for educational programs and events, four full-size African elephant sculptures and an amphitheater that will allow guests to see elephant training, enrichment and husbandry. The project also will include mud wallows and a shallow pool for the endangered black rhinoceros and a new exhibit for the African lions featuring upper and lower viewing areas and heated rocks.

And, the exhibits will be designed so that visitors can have a closer look at the animals, Gordon said. Each year, more than 500,000 people visit the zoo.

“It’s a monster of a project and we are excited to push through it to make a better home for elephants, African lions and black rhinos and create an enhanced guest experience,” Gordon said.

The project has been underway with little fanfare as construction crews just completed the first phase of the project – which includes work on the elephant barn. The new barn is several times the size of the current barn and will give the elephants more space for training.  This building will have a large natural substrate sand stall and a “splash stall” with an elephant-operated warm-water shower.

J.E. Dunn Construction pulled permits for the next phase, about $469,309 of work which includes work on the lion’s exhibit.

The Encounter Africa project was dreamed up after zoo personnel and guests, through surveys, agreed that “it was time for a new home,” Gordon said.

The current elephant exhibit, for example, is one of the zoo’s oldest buildings, built in the early 1950s.

Each day, the elephants make the commute from their current exhibit to the new barn to make acclimation a little easier. Over the next few weeks, they will gradually spend more and more time in the new barn until they move in permanently.