Wrecking ball hits zoo’s elephant barn; makes way for new exhibit

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo gets new elephant barn.

A wrecking ball crashed into the elephant barn Wednesday at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to make way for the next phase of the zoo’s multi-million Encounter Africa project.

The zoo’s elephant keepers took the first swings at the barn, which opened in the early 1950s. Then, the wrecking ball brought the building down.

It’s part of the zoo’s new Encounter Africa project, which began in 2010 and already includes a new elephant barn.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s elephants moved into their new state-of-the-art barn at the end of the summer, said Katie Borremans, spokeswoman for the zoo. The new barn has more space with a sand stall and a splash stall.

The on-going construction project means the elephants are not available for public viewing, Borremans said.

The $13.5 million Encounter Africa is the largest project the zoo has undertaken in its history. The project is expected to be completed in 2013. To date, the zoo has raised $12 million for the project. The next phase of the fund raising campaign is expected to roll out in the coming weeks, Borremans said.

When complete, the exhibit will be home to the African elephants, African lions and black rhinos. The exhibit 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 the more than 500,000 annual visitors to the zoo can have a closer look at the animals.

J.E. Dunn Construction will work on the next phase of the project, which includes work on the lion’s exhibit.