Monday, April 15, 2024

Saint Louis Zoo unveils name and shares plans for new experiences

Target public opening in 2026 

The Saint Louis Zoo has shared plans for the new experience for children and families on site of the current Emerson Dinoroarus, formerly Emerson Children’s Zoo.  

“Thanks to an incredibly generous $15 million lead gift from the Henry A. Jubel Foundation, we are able to carry forward the goal of the previous Children’s Zoo by providing dynamic experiences for children and families that will inspire a love of animals and learning, but in new and innovative ways,” said Dwight Scott, Dana Brown president and CEO, Saint Louis Zoo. “Destination Discovery will have animal adventures at every turn. You will be able to explore and play side by side with animals, building connections to the natural world.” 

Development of the 2.8-acre Henry A. Jubel Foundation Destination Discovery is estimated to cost $40 million with funding coming from a variety of sources, including philanthropy. With a target public opening slated for 2026, construction will begin in 2024. The temporary exhibit Dinoroarus will close November 5, 2023. 

The Jubel Foundation is named for Henry A. Jubel, who immigrated to St. Louis from Germany. Today, Henry’s legacy is carried out through his family’s philanthropy as longtime supporters of the Zoo. 

“Our family has a longstanding and deep connection with the Saint Louis Zoo,” said Melissa Jubel Markwort, executive director, Henry A. Jubel Foundation. “When the Children’s Zoo closed in 2020, as a family we knew we wanted to be a part of bringing this space back to life and in an even better way.” 

The Saint Louis Zoo is a place where generations have come to play, learn about nature, connect to animals and spend time together. For 51 years, the Children’s Zoo was especially important to the Zoo’s youngest guests, emphasizing close-up encounters with animals and their caretakers. 

A closure during the COVID-19 pandemic gave the Zoo an opportunity to begin reimagining the space to make it even more engaging, immersive and accessible to all guests.  

“Connecting with animals and nature is an important part of a healthy, active childhood, and the future of wildlife and wild places depends on the community as a whole caring for and conserving them,” said Scott. “When you care for animals, our shared world becomes a healthier place for all living things.” 

Inspired by a collaborative conservation model, design for the Destination Discovery is informed by science and developed in partnership with the community. Engagement sessions with children and families from diverse backgrounds and abilities helped determine what themes, activities and features would create the best possible experience for guests.  

Guest experiences and animals 

This dynamic 2.8-acre area is designed with the youngest guests in mind, emphasizing close-up encounters with animals in an immersive and hands-on learning environment for guests of all abilities. 

“Guests, young and young at heart, will have the opportunity to explore the underground tunnels dug by prairie dogs, splash alongside flamingos, and walk through an aviary. Guests will learn all about animals being part of families and communities just like us,” said Michael Macek, Saint Louis Zoo director. “No visit to Destination Discovery will be the same for guests. We plan to have spontaneous keeper chats and surprise animal experiences, like macaws flying overhead.”  

While subject to change, here is the initial list with brief descriptions of the guest experiences with working titles as well as animals that will likely be at Destination Discovery: 

Animals and Us 

The entrance to Destination Discovery starts with a walk into a building where guests are immersed in state-of-the-art interactive projection, projection mapping and augmented reality technology that sets the stage for the rest of the day’s adventures. This immersive experience in the Animals and Us building will change with the seasons, so guests can see how our native wildlife and wild spaces change as they visit throughout the year. Live animal habitats will be integrated into the highly interactive multi-media experience spaces.   

Forest Families 

A network of treehouses connected by overhead tunnels will take guests into the home of the active and fascinating, tree-dwelling coati (pronounced koh-waa-tee), native to Central and South America, Mexico and southernmost portions of the U.S.  

The walk-through aviary brings guests close to java finches where they have an opportunity to feed the birds using seed sticks. Both indoor and outdoor components allow for year-round opportunities to interact with the birds.  

Tasmanian devils and babydoll sheep are ambassadors for shrinking forest habitat and how human activity interacts with the sustainability of wild animal populations. The immersive Tasmanian devil exhibit, one of only three devil exhibits in the U.S., features a climb-through tree trunk with a wildlife underpass, allowing the devils to reach both sides of the habitat. This area offers guests a great opportunity to learn about wild animals living in communities with people. 

Underground itcies  

The Underground Cities habitat allows very close encounters with friendly, approachable animals. The highly immersive prairie dog habitat is fun and enriching for animals and the guests. While the black-tailed prairie dogs create their own underground tunnels and pathways, guests can make their way through human sized tunnels and “pop-up” into the animal habitat for nose-to-nose views.  

Guests may walk among Patagonian mara (pronounced mah-rah), a large rabbit-like rodent native to Argentina. Joining the mara will be alpaca, a relative of the llama. This large, walk-in area doubles as an outdoor classroom space for educational programs. 

Freshwater Wilderness and water play area 

North American river otters return with this expansive Freshwater Wilderness area. Otters will be visible through acrylic panels on the left and right, and also in acrylic flumes overhead. Guests on the Wildlife Overlook will have unique views of the land areas and water surface being used by this active species.  

Whimsical animal sculptures and interactive water elements surround the guests at the splash zone. Guests enjoying the splash pad will have amazing views into the Chilean flamingo lagoon. With the help of animal care staff, guests will be able to view these animals up-close and observe their unique adaptations and feeding methods. Close by, a covered dining area is situated with breathtaking views of the splash pad and the flamingo habitat. A covered “Learning Pod” situated on the Wildlife Overlook provides a comfortable, shaded area to learn with live presentations and interactive interpretive elements. 

Education Building 

Educating children about the importance of animals and their environment is essential to building future conservationists. The Living World building at the North Entrance will be expanded and feature a new ADA-accessible two-story addition dedicated to education programming. The second floor of this new space will be home to the Saint Louis Zoo Preschool.

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