The Downing Gorilla Forest
The Downing Gorilla Forest opened in July of 2004. Built to replicate eight acres of central African forest, it is home to more than 50 animals of eight species, including a bachelor group of lowland gorillas. The Downing Gorilla Forest is an adventure that delights all the senses, as you become immersed in equatorial Africa. To whet your appetite for the experience ahead, Nganda Village is home to a number of forest animals. Children will delight in the playground, while parents, close by, can enjoy a brief respite in the shade before heading out on their adventure. Along the bank of the river, you will see families of black-and-white colobus and DeBrazza’s monkeys. Both species of monkeys are found along the river and mountain forests of central Africa.
A fifty-foot bridge will take you out of the lively atmosphere of Nganda Village and immerse you in the forest of the gorilla. Look closely and you will see the saddle-billed storks foraging along the stream.The Downing Gorilla Forest is home of the secretive okapi, a distant relative to the giraffe. The okapi was only discovered in 1904. Look across the small stream on the opposite bank for white stripes against a dark brown background and you will see this rare animal. The Sedgwick County Zoo is one of only 35 zoos worldwide to exhibit these animals.
Continuing down the jungle path you will see the first sign that gorillas are near - hand and foot prints. Follow the prints leading to the doors of The Downing Gorilla Forest Reserve. The natural history of the gorilla and conservation efforts of biologists will be described in educational signs and interactive displays. Looking ahead again you will see a large tree, its trunk only visible in the middle of a clearing. Around this large tree you see gorillas. As you enter the clearing you find yourself in the middle of the gorilla’s home – an experience like no other. Take your time and sit under the tree. Watch the gorillas as they forage on the hillside, lounge in the shade, play and wrestle.
The Pride of the Plains exhibit opened in May 2000. It features 700 feet of paths and trails winding through kopje (large boulder) rock with unobstructed views of animals from the African savannah. The large kopje rocks provide shade for meerkats, Red river hogs, lions and painted dogs during the summer and will hold heat to provide a warm surface on cold winter days. Among the kopje rocks, the landscape contains plants and grasses that resemble those native to eastern and southern Africa, providing the look and feel of an African svannah.
As you begin your journey through the savannah you come upon a colony of meerkats. Meekats are only active when the sun warms the surface of their burrows. When the weather is overcast or raining, meerkats may not emerge from their underground homes. Similarly, during midday, if temperatures are too hot, meerkats will return underground to cool off. How many meerkats will you see playing?
Continuing on your way, weaving in and out of the kopje rocks, you spot the Red river hogs wallowing in the mud and lounging in the shade. Up ahead you see one large kopje rock — this has been named "pride rock," as the lions can often be seen sitting on top of the rock surveying the plains. Not too far in the distance is a group of African painted dogs, another predator on the savannah. Listen closely, that unexpected high-pitched squeal is the sound of the painted dog.
The juxtaposition of the meerkat, Red river hog, lion and painted dog creates a dramatic illustration of the predator/prey relationship found on the African savannah.
Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley
The Reed Family Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley is the third largest elephant exhibit in the country. It encompass more than 5 acres of sprawling outdoors space, plus indoor facility and world's largest elephant pool at 550,000 gallons.
This habitat is designed to provide elephants with choices that help ensure their physical, mental and social well being. The innovative approach is informed by the latest scientific research about elephant welfare including a landmark 2013 study that assessed the health of elephants at all U.S. accredited zoos and identified opportunities to improve welfare for all elephants in professional care. Insights from these studies are informing how we care for elephants.
The Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley points of interest:
South yard, 3.6 acres:
• World's largest pool for elephants at 550,000 gallons
• Water cannon for Zookeepers to give elephant-sized showers
North yard, 1.2 acres:
• Wading pool for the elephants
Two behind-the-scenes yards, 8,400 square feet each
Spirit Camp Zambezi
• Covered pavilion inserted between the two largest elephant yards. Essentially allowing guests to be surrounded by elephants from all view points.
• This area will be used for private parties, Creature Campouts and more.
Sedgwick County Elephant Indoor Facility, 18,000 square feet:
• Multiple “rooms” with dirt flooring
• Elephant training wall
• Guest visiting area
• Access to building during the winter months if elephants are inside due to temperatures
More than Just a Barn
The new elephant barn at Sedgwick County Zoo will be one of the premier holding buildings for elephants in the country. The 18,000 square foot, state-of-the-art building is designed to hold a family of up to nine elephants. The barn features a large public viewing area, where the elephants will have access to the holding yards for roaming. All of the stalls have sand substrate flooring that is beneficial for the animal's overall health and well-being. Another feature of the facility is the addition of an Rotating Elephant Restraint - that will be used for medical check-ups that literally rotates the animal comfortably for examination. The barn has both manual and hydraulic-lift doors; a keeper kitchen that is view-able by the public; and a training wall for the elephants and keeper office areas.
Construction of a new elephant barn is required to bring the structure in compliance with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums standards.
See Eye to Eye with Giraffes
Finish your journey through Africa with a safari view of hippopotamus, South African bush elephants, rhinoceros, and giraffes. Is a giraffe's nose cold? How long are its eyelashes? What color is its tongue? Discover the answers to these questions and more as your adventure takes you to the Giraffe Feeding Station. Get up close and personal with these tall, elegant animals. You will walk out to the end of a deck, which positions you eight feet into the giraffe yard and eight feet above the ground! As the giraffe approaches and bends his long neck down toward you to take a treat from your hand, you will come to know if its nose is cold and how long its eyelashes are and the color of its tongue. Experience can be the best teacher and in this case, it's quite exciting, too!