Turtle Back Zoo

A Brief History of Essex County’s Turtle Back Zoo

The Turtle Back Zoo is one of the many historic landmarks of Northern New Jersey. Let us briefly review its history and impact on the community over the last 56 years.

“In 1962, President William Wachenfeld and the Essex County Park Commission awarded a $400,000 contract to Max Drill, Inc. to build a zoo on a 15.5 acre section of The South Mountain Reservation. It was to be a seasonal zoo designed for children. Tjark Reiss was hired to design the zoo and he created exhibits based on Hans Christian Anderson’s nursery rhyme themes and other children’s stories. Turtle Back Zoo officially opened on June 3, 1963 with a collection of 140 animals of 40 species. By 1973 the zoo’s animal collection had grown to 850 animals of 275 species. In 1975 a Zoological Society was established that could promote the zoo and provide funding support through memberships and other fundraising efforts. In 2000 the zoo completed a new master plan with accreditation from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association as its major focus. The zoo began to replace the antiquated 1960’s style cages with larger naturalistic habitats for its animals. In 2005 the zoo completed the new 1.8 million dollar Essex County Animal Hospital at Turtle Back Zoo to serve the zoo’s animal residents and serve as a quarantine facility for a growing animal collection. In September 2006 Turtle Back Zoo was granted accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. This distinct honor places Turtle Back Zoo amongst the elite zoos and aquaria of the United States and means that the zoo adheres to the highest standards for zoos in the country.” – Turtle Back Zoo

Be sure to check out their Family Night events on Wednesdays and Thursdays through the summer where the Zoo will be open later than usual to accommodate after-work hours and cooler temperatures. They also offer behind the scenes tours for many animals such as penguins and nocturnal animals. Although there are many events geared towards younger audiences and families, there are some events for older crowds such as Ales and Tails which features craft beers in early October. Feel free to visit their event calendar to find events that fit you and your family! The Turtle Back Zoo is, has and will always be such a wonderful part of our local community!

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