New Exhibit Features Cougars and Jaguars; Snow Leopards Added to Asian Exhibit

Big Cat Country Exhibit Opens at Turtle Back Zoo


Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced on Friday, November 4th that the construction of the new Big Cat Country Exhibit featuring jaguars and cougars at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo was complete. The exhibit is part of the County Executive’s ongoing initiative to expand recreation and education opportunities at the Zoo and create new attractions that keep guests returning for multiple visits.

“Over the last several years we have set higher and higher standards for ourselves to provide visitors with exciting experiences while teaching them about the importance of animals and conservation. The addition of Big Cat Country represents a new chapter in the development of Turtle Back Zoo. This is a one-of-a-kind attraction that will captivate our visitors’ attention and keep them coming back for new adventures,” DiVincenzo said.

“What is being accomplished here is magnificent. The County Executive has created a venue that offers our families and people of all ages resounding opportunities for recreation and education at an affordable price. In these difficult economic times, that’s incredibly important,” NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said.

“I look at an exhibit like this and I am awestruck of what the zoo has become today because of the vision and leadership from our County Executive and the support from the Board of Freeholders,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “We are the No. 1 zoo in New Jersey and what could be better than that?” she asked rhetorically.

Big Cat Country is located in the southern section of Turtle Back Zoo, near the Wild New Jersey Exhibit and Essex Farm Petting Zoo. The new exhibit features cougars and jaguars and has a Southwest United States theme. The animals’ area has rock outcroppings, a waterfall and indigenous Southwest plantings. Viewing areas resemble a southwest mine or cave and stamped concrete pathways for visitors resemble a southwest trail. The Big Cat area has an indoor winter refuge area for the animals and secure holding areas. It also is being used as a breeding facility. The exhibit is enclosed with a strong mesh cage.

An added feature is the new adobe themed restroom building adjacent to the exhibit. This structure provides restroom facilities for the first time in southern part of the zoo and was constructed with a number of environmentally friendly features to save water and reduce waste.

The cougars previously were held in an exhibit located next to the Red Panda in an area designated for Asian animals. When they were relocated to their new home, snow leopards, which are indigenous to mountains in Central Asia, were introduced into the exhibit.

“I am proud to work with a County Executive who understands the education and recreational value of zoos. Big Cat Country is another example of the tremendous resources Joe provides to help Turtle Back Zoo continually grow and improve,” Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Director Dr. Jeremy Goodman said.

The Treetop Adventure Course was also developed as part of this project. It opened in September and is scheduled to be open every Saturday and Sunday until the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, weather permitting. The Course has 22 stations that are elevated above the ground. Participants move from platform to platform by traversing a variety of obstacles that include rope bridges, zip lines, zigzag boards and logs, to name a few. It is estimated that the average person will take about 90 minutes to complete the course. (Participants can exit the course midway through the journey.) The course is designed to teach about treetop exploration and is geared for older children and adults. It has a separate entrance so it can remain open after Turtle Back Zoo closes. Admission to the Treetop Adventure Course is $20. To make a reservation, please visit Group reservations are available.

The engineering firm of French and Parrello from Wall, NJ, received a $138,897 contract to design Big Cat Country and the Aerial Obstacle Course. Shauger Property Services of East Orange was awarded a competitively bid contract of $3,056,808 to construct the new attractions. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project. Design services were paid by the Zoological Society of New Jersey. The construction was funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.

Turtle Back Zoo is open Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Regular admission is $7 for children and senior citizens, $10 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For additional information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit


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