Zoo’s Madagascar exhibit encourages love of wild

This collared lemur is just one of the native animals from Madagascar.

Patrons will take a walk on the wild side at a much-anticipated new Bronx Zoo exhibit opening to the public this week.  

Madagascar, which opened on Friday, June 20, is a beautiful reproduction of the intriguing habitats on the world’s fourth largest island, located off Africa’s east coast. 

The new exhibit will be home to a startling array of endemic flora and fauna such as the fascinating ring-tailed lemur, radiated tortoise, Nile crocodile, a unique mammalian predator known as the fossa and a replica of a bizarre arid forest of spiny trees found in the dry south of Madagascar.

Housed in the Lion House on the zoo’s Astor Court, the historic building, forever etched in history as the site of President Theodore Roosevelt’s founding of the American Bison Society, is now the city’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified landmark in the city. 

LEED is a system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to assess the “greenness” of building projects based upon an complex set of high performance and sustainable building criteria.

For James J. Breheny, a Throggs Neck native and zoo director, the exhibit exemplifies the zoo’s commitment to telling the story of conservation through showing the wonder of wildlife.  

Breheny began his zoo career as a 14-year-old St. Raymond’s High School student, and recalled his youthful love of the facility.

“What we need to do is expose kids to nature,” he said.  “The average kid isn’t able to go to Madagascar, but here, they can connect with the animals like I did as a kid, and this gets people to care.”

He feels the exhibit can foster the passion he had for nature as a boy trudging through Ferry Point Park.

“My mom would say, ‘Go out, see you at dinnertime,’ and I would go to the park, and find toads, ring neck pheasants, Gardner snakes,” he said.  “Kid’s don’t get a chance to do that now.”

The exhibit’s educational layout will be a youth favorite for many years to come.  

Already familiar with the island from the animated movie Madagascar, the zoo hopes children will also gain interest in both the animals and conservation efforts of the remote island. 

“I don’t know if the movie does lemurs justice,” said Sonal Bhatt, assistant director of interpretative programs at the WCS.  “The work here is representative of what we’re doing in Madagascar, and patrons can see that; the real Madagascar.”

The exhibit’s designer, Bronx Science alum Sue Chin, the zoo’s director of planning and design, agreed the exhibit attempts to instill a passion for the environment and wildlife that inhabit it.

“We hope it will reinforce the desire to learn about nature,” Chin said. 

In addition to exhibition areas, the building will feature a meeting space available for zoo functions and community use. 

Featuring the historic architectural elements of the building, the grand 4,600-square-foot multi-purpose room is the zoo’s largest indoor meeting space, with a capacity for 230 people. 

The refurbished century-old trusses, two-story windows and ornamental animal sculptures are visible to guests assembled for WCS meetings, community events and private functions in the handicapped accessible venue.

More information is available at www.bronxzoo.com.

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