New Zoo gorillas to get eye-to-eye with visitors: Beasts are returning in $28 million up-close style
After a 10-year absence, the Houston Zoo is welcoming gorillas back into the fold with what is expected to be one of the most carefully-constructed zoological habitats in the world.
"Our goal is to inspire people to care about these animals by creating personal and up-close experiences," explained exhibit designer Keith McClintock of Seattle's Portico Group at a Thursday ceremony at the future site of the $28 million project, which opens in 2015.
"We want to create a forest that has people moving through it and gorillas moving through it . . . The idea is to get people within inches of a gorilla."
To do so, McClintock and a team of landscape architects, contractors and zookeepers have devised a space in which visitors and animals can co-mingle at a safe distance.
Gorillas and people alike will be lured to quiet, shaded areas — some of which will feature a glass wall to allow guests to get eye-to-eye with the endangered primates.
Elevated walkways offer another unique opportunity to see gorillas inside a canopy of seven 100-year-old oak trees that have been relocated from other parts of the zoo. Click here to watch how it was done.
As the exhibit approaches its final form, two zoo-raised groups of lowland gorillas will be introduced to the new habitat along with a small cadre of red river hogs, which are found throughout the gorillas' home turf in the swamps and rainforests of West Africa.
"It's very important that people see the gorillas in person, because most people will never have the chance to go to the remote corners of Africa to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat," Houston Zoo director Rick Barongi said.
"These wildlife ambassadors will hopefully inspire people in this beautiful exhibit to care more about these incredible animals. If they care more, they'll help more."
Watch the video below to see more of the Gorillas of the African Forest exhibit: