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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 15:29 EDT

Zoo Bringing a Bit of Africa to Boise: The Exhibit Being Built Will Feature 36 Animals and a Kenyan Village

August 5, 2008

By Anna Webb, The Idaho Statesman, Boise

Aug. 5–Zoo Boise soon will welcome 36 animals of 17 different species to live in the Mr. and Mrs. Clarence B. Wilmot African Plains Exhibit — now a construction site of bare stucco walls and roofs waiting to be thatched.

When the exhibit opens this fall, the animals — including lions, giraffes and others brand new to Boise — will live around a life-sized model of an East African village, the largest public art piece in town.

Here’s a quick preview tour of Boise’s little Serengeti:

1. THE TRAVEL OFFICE

At the first building you’ll come to, you’ll be able to get your “passport” picture taken and learn more about the animals you’re about to see — including some truly spectacular birds.

A few new arrivals are already tucked away in the zoo, including a pair of rufous-crowned rollers.

The purplish-brown birds roll through the air when they fly.

Nearby is the black-casqued hornbill.

That’s “casque,” as in “helmet,” for the hollow, banana-shaped form that sits atop this bird’s head. The appendage amplifies its call and attracts mates with a beauty that only another hornbill can fully appreciate.

2. PONTOON BOATS ON THE LAGOON

By next spring, you’ll be able to step outside the travel office, board a pontoon boat and sail across the lagoon. The De Brazza’s monkeys, which live in the primate house for now, will be waiting for you on the other side.

3. THE BRIDGE

Pedestrians can cross on a bridge, from which they’ll be able to view the servals — medium-sized African cats — and the back of the lions’ yard.

One male and two female lions will live in the 9,200-square-foot space, behind an 18-foot fence three feet over regulation size.

They all come from the same rescue facility in Colorado, so they’re already friends.

Money for the space, of course, was donated by the Lions Clubs of Southwest Idaho.

4. THE SCHOOL HOUSE

Just past a small village house, well and shade tree, you’ll find a reproduction of a typical East African school.

Consultants from the Boise State theater department and the Masai Association, members of a Kenyan tribe, have been working together to make sure the buildings in the exhibition are accurate representations.

The school has one unique feature, though. One wall is a window into the lions’ den.

5. THE GIRAFFE BARN

Two male giraffes, who will arrive this fall from St. Paul and Palm Springs, will live here.

Note two unusual features:

The ridged concrete floor will act as a giant nail file for the giraffes, whose hooves continue to grow.

The “squeeze shoot,” a narrow aluminum hallway, won’t squeeze the giraffes, exactly, but keeps them calm and contained when they need medical care.

The wall of the shoot will have a series of doors placed at different heights to give zookeepers access different parts of each giraffe’s body. Picture a giant advent calendar.

The shoot is a necessary safety measure. While giraffes may look calm with those big, bovine eyes, their kicks are so powerful they can crack a predator’s skull — and they can lash out in any direction.

6. ELEPHANTS? NO — BUT CLOSE.

Keeping an elephant would take up half the zoo’s space and half its budget, said Zoo Director Steve Burns.

The exhibition will, however, contain approximations of elephants.

Just outside the exhibition entrance is the cage of the saurus crane. Its call sounds a lot like a trumpeting elephant, though it is a sleek, grey Asian bird.

Stranger still, is the exhibition’s inclusion of the rock hyrax. This furry, fast, rabbit-sized animal is the closest living relative of the elephant.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Idaho Statesman, Boise

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