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Animal Attraction

Spend the day at the zoo and experience a world of fun

“The World In Your Backyard” is the perfect tagline for the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange. For the past 60 years, it has been bringing incredible species from around the world for children and adults to experience up close and in person. With over 400 animals representing 156 species, the zoo draws over 900,000 visitors in an average year.

Two popular attractions include the Africa Adventure exhibit featuring giraffes, lions, hyenas, and penguins, and the Amazing Asia exhibit, with its clouded leopards and red pandas. And of course, the flamingos, with their colorful plumage, receive a lot of attention.

While there, guests can also visit Andy, a 64-year-old Aldabra tortoise, and Adak, a bald eagle estimated to be 33 years old and who’s also the zoo’s longest resident, having arrived in 1997. There are also reptiles, birds, incredible insects and more.

“Most of our animals come from other zoos and facilities,” says Katherine Hartwyk, deputy director of the Essex County Parks Department. In addition to housing and feeding the animals, taking care of their mental and physical health are top priorities. In September of 2006, Turtle Back Zoo was granted accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which means that it adheres to the highest standards for zoos in the country.

Along with the exhibits, there are other experiences that shouldn’t be missed. “Our train ride takes riders past our giraffe yard, which is always a hit, and the carousel is fun to ride,” Hartwyk says.

When it’s time for a bite to eat, the Savanna Café features a variety of food options and, for adults who wish to relax with a beer or cocktail, there’s a full bar on the second floor.

Turtle Back Zoo also offers rental pavilions for private events such as birthday celebrations, weddings and corporate parties. If the event is held after hours, guests have the whole zoo to themselves.

Many educational programs are held on site too, and the zoo has an outreach team that goes to festivals and other public events, as well as into schools to present programs throughout the year.

In addition to buying tickets and donating, another great way to support everything that the zoo offers is to become a member, which includes a lot of special perks. “When you're a member of the zoo, you're also supporting our nonprofit arm, the New Jersey Zoological Society,” says Katherine.

Since Turtle Back Zoo is part of the South Mountain Recreation Complex, visitors can also find a mini golf course, paddle boats, zip lining, a picnic area, playground and other attractions within walking distance. In the summer, there are free movies on the parking deck every Wednesday night. After a day of fun-filled activities, many people walk over to McLoone’s Boathouse for a nice dinner.

Says Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., “We are proud of how our zoo has grown and been transformed into a respected educational resource and recreational destination.”

To plan your visit, go to TurtleBackZoo.com.

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