Fresno Chaffee Zoo unveils animal ambassador complex

On July 7th the Fresno Chaffee Zoo unveiled a new complex designed to hold their prized animal ambassadors. The animals are integral to the zoo’s outreach program and play a key role in educating the public.

According to Fresno Chaffee Zoo Chief Executive Officer Jon Forrest Dohlin, this new complex will provide better opportunities for education throughout the county and beyond.

“This is what allows us to do what we do best, which is connect people to wildlife, connect people to conservation issues, connect them to their own community here in the Central Valley and to those inspiring one-on-one with wild animals here in the zoo,” Forrest said.

The complex consists of two buildings on less than an acre of land. It’s a relatively small project according to Chief Conservation Education Officer Dean Watanabe, but the price tag sure isn’t.

It cost the zoo $3.3 million dollars and took a year to build. The price and length of construction may be due to the complexity of the facilities used to house the animals.

Watanabe explained that the buildings needed to meet the “highest standards of animal care” for a variety of different animals and required a team of expert zoo staff, engineers, architects and horticulturists to reach its completion.

With that being said, Watanabe also believes the investment will have a large impact and ensure that animal ambassadors continue to make meaningful connections.

In a typical year 100,000 students go to the Chaffee Zoo. Thousands more come to programs, camps and interact with animals via outreach efforts that extend into Tulare County.

“Animal ambassadors are a central piece of all of those programs,” Watanabe said. “They are ambassadors for the natural world.”

A job that keeps these animals very busy.

Chaffee Zoo Animal Curator Lyn Myers said, “The animals have jobs where they travel with volunteers and staff to go-off grounds and meet children in their classroom. Another day they may go to a camp.”

As fun as that may sound, zoo staff are focused on educating the public to help dispel misconceptions and conserve the environment.

One of Watanabe’s favorite ambassadors, for example, are cockroaches because they have been particularly helpful in informing the public about the insect’s key role in transforming waste into soil.

Of course the zoo also carries more dazzling animal ambassadors on staff such as snakes, armadillos, and large birds like Chloe, a blue-and-gold macaw that can wave hello to excited young students.

And it’s in these special moments of awe where the work happens.

“We take this wonder and this excitement about animals and we help people take actions that make the world around them better,” Watanabe said.

The CEO of the Chaffee Zoo emphasized that the new complex and the continuation of the outreach programs could not have been possible without the support of the community and Measure Z, a special sales tax in Fresno County that benefits capital improvement and operations in the zoo.

Unfortunately, this new complex will not be open to the public, but thanks to Measure Z another exciting new project is underway.

This one is specifically tailored for guests and will act as a sprawling new $38 million-dollar exhibit called Kingdoms of Asia.

According to Marketing Manager Brandy Gamoning, the exhibit will be an immersive experience that will transport guests and educate them about the wildlife, people and cultures of Southeast Asia.

Animals in the new exhibit will include sloth bears, orangutans and Asian songbirds. But perhaps the most interesting new addition will be a tiger exhibit featuring an elevated bridge and an underwater viewing glass designed to demonstrate the striped cat’s power and adaptability.

And for those interested in finding a unique venue for a birthday party or evening dinner, Fresno Chaffee Zoo has announced Kingdoms of Asia will be open after-hours to host meetings and events.

The exhibit is expected to reach completion by the end of 2022, but some areas may be open in the Spring.

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