Cenla: the New Land of the Jaguar


October 2013 CoverThe Land of the Jaguar is Cenla’s newest attraction, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, but there is much more going on at the Alexandria Zoo!  The restrooms near the playground have been renovated, an Activities Building has been added by repurposing our old education room, and 2013-2014 has even more in store for our Zoo and our community!


Established in 1926, the Alexandria Zoo (City Park Zoo) has been a part of this community for 87 years.  It began as a tiny linear menagerie of cages constructed of chain link fabric and iron bars with gravel, dirt or concrete floors. Over the years, Alexandria Zoo has transformed into an award-winning facility and a recognized participant in the worldwide conservation efforts for endangered species.  The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ independent Accreditation Commission following a thorough review to ensure it has and will continue to meet ever-rising standards, which include animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education and safety. AZA requires zoos and aquariums to successfully complete this rigorous accreditation process every five years in order to be members of the Association.  Opening the Land of the Jaguar is a giant step forward, as well as an assurance that the City of Alexandria Administration and City Council recognize this jewel in the heart of Bringhurst Park, and are willing to invest in something dear to its citizens and important to education and conservation.


MayanTemple-webTaking a leisurely stroll through the Land of the Jaguar exhibit, you will see many new animals at the zoo, such as coatis (a relative of the raccoon), a sloth that you will view upside down most of the time, cute little bush dogs, gorgeous scarlet ibises and Chilean flamingos, a hawk-head parrot, the goose-like Coscoroba swans, a colorful ocellated turkey, two young energetic jaguars, young speckled crocodilians called caimans, blonde and black howler monkeys, and probably the most unusual creature in the new collection, a giant anteater named Harley!


The two jaguars were paired by the Species Survival Plan coordinator and we are hopeful that they will become a breeding pair, contributing to the breeding program for jaguars.  Maderas, the female, was born at the San Diego Zoo.  In order to introduce new genes into the breeding group in U.S. zoos, the male jaguar was imported from Panama.  Bebu, as he is known, was being held at a park after his mother was killed by a poacher when he was only a few months old. His genes will be extremely valuable to jaguar breeding.


DSC_1993-webThis lengthy process was a cooperative effort between three U.S. zoos including the Alexandria Zoo and the government of Panama.  The expenses were paid by FOTAZ, and the staff received the support of the City of Alexandria. Lisa Laskoski, General Curator, made all travel arrangements. She traveled to Panama and flew back to the U.S. in the cockpit of the cargo plane with the younf Bebu.


Alexandria Zoo continues to follow the Master Plan developed in the 1980’s. The first concept and many of the ideas incorporated into the Land of the Jaguar exhibit were developed by Zoo Designer, Ray Robinson, who worked closely with Lee Ann Whitt.  Robinson was a close friend of Les Whitt, and was instrumental in designing the Louisiana Habitat Exhibit.  Professional zoo designer and architectural firm Torre Design Consortium, LTD of New Orleans was chosen for final design.


Local contractors, engineers and businesses were hired for construction and engineering specifications. The zoo staff worked diligently with other City of Alexandria employees such as Deputy Director of Public Works Rick Tompkins and Project Manager Jim Ligon.  Without the many City of Alexandria departments who came together to contribute their specific skills such as plumbing, electrical, carpentry, painting, welding and ironwork, concrete work, surveying and more, it would have been impossible to finish all elements of the exhibit.  Upgrading utilities to this new exhibit was a primary concern not only for daily operations but to make the entire project more energy efficient.


DSC_1621-webCreating a lush environment for the animals’ enclosures as well as for the enjoyment of the public was not an easy task.  Much of the landscaping was planted and replanted several times, due to a few changes that developed near the end of the project.  The crew worked tirelessly, and the end result is extremely rewarding.  Samantha Young, daughter of Marcia Young and the late Doug Young, was the coordinator who secured thousands of plants for the project.  She worked with the zoo staff to establish the needs of the project and then contacted many of the nurseries in Forest Hill to get plants donated or offered at a reduced rate.  Doug Young Nursery donated over $30,000 worth of plants.  Samantha and Bobby Young are the third generation of Young family nurseries to be genuine zoo friends. It began with her grandparents, Robert and Edith Young in the 1970’s, then her parents Marcia and Doug Young, and uncle Stanley Young continued their involvement in the zoo’s development.  This has been a remarkable friendship that has benefited the Cenla community beyond measure.


Steve Ayres of Petron, Inc. has always stepped up to the plate to assist the zoo and so many other community entities.  The tin fences in the Amazon Village, the old Army truck and crates, the roofs of several enclosures, and one cage are examples of donated labor and materials to help complete projects that did not receive total funding.  Board member, Andrea Mattison is also a major contributor who wants to see Land of the Jaguar continue to evolve by helping fund the aviary.  Roy O. Martin Foundation and Alexandria Iron and Supply are donors who not only contributed financially but gave materials as needed to complete components of the exhibit.


Jaguar-webOne building still under construction is the “Estación de Amazonia”, an interactive learning center with artifacts, reptiles, kiosks and other remarkable little creatures that inhabit the rainforest.  This project will be partially funded by FOTAZ, but needs additional financial support to become the fascinating, educational Amazon Station that is envisioned.


This new addition to the Zoo was made possible because so many people could see the vision and bought into the idea of creating an incredible environment for animals and families, an outdoor classroom, and an important conservation program.  Friends of the Alexandria Zoo, volunteers, community members, businesses, and so many more share our dreams for the future of the Alexandria Zoo.  The Land of the Jaguar is funded through a SPARC grant, with additional funding from the City of Alexandria, Friends of the Alexandria Zoo, and private/corporate donors. Donors include the Roy O. Martin Foundation, Bindursky Family, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Flores, Forest Hill Nurseries, Mrs. Caroline G. Theus, and Murphy Oil Company.


AlexandriaZoo_scarletMacaw-webThe newly opened exhibit has been an incredible first step.  Please become involved and make great things happen!  With big events approaching you have an opportunity with Zoo Boo and Holiday Light Safari to help raise additional funds for the Zoo.  Check the Zoo’s website www.thealexandriazoo.com.


Join us!  Catch the vision!  For more information on all the offerings at your Alexandria Zoo, contact Lee Ann Whitt at (318) 441-6833.