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February 7, 2008

All-Time Record for Attendance and Revenue are Set Once Again

Turtle Back Zoo will Operate as a Self-Sufficient Facility, without any Support from Taxpayer Dollars in 2008

West Orange, NJ - Essex County Turtle Back Zoo experienced a historic year by breaking records in attendance and revenue, opening new natural habitat animal exhibits, establishing new corporate partnerships and expanding programming that help raise nature awareness and introduce the zoo to new audiences. Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. shared the successes of 2007 and outlined his future plans during the first-ever Annual Report for Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Thursday, February 7th.

The County Executive also announced that in 2008 Turtle Back Zoo will become a self-sufficient facility for the first time in its 45-year history. Its proposed $1.8 million budget for this year will be supported by admission fees, and private and corporate donations. This milestone comes 12 years after a prior administration planned to close Turtle Back Zoo.

"The record-breaking attendance and revenue records speak volumes about the growing popularity of Turtle Back Zoo, and we are proud to have transformed the Zoo into a regional attraction that is teaching children and families to have an appreciation for animals as well as protecting and preserving exotic and endangered species," the County Executive said. "The increased attendance and corporate and community support will enable us to make Turtle Back Zoo a self-sufficient facility that does not rely on any taxpayer dollars. While most zoos across the country depend on admissions and donations to fund 30 percent of their operating budget, Turtle Back Zoo will be fully supported through admission fees and donations. This is the ultimate example of the County enhancing quality of life without any burden on our taxpayers," he added.

"This is a great opportunity to celebrate the metamorphosis of Turtle Back Zoo and thank everyone for transforming it into destination attraction that is recognized throughout the State," Senator Teresa Ruiz said. "People now look to Turtle Back Zoo for more than just recreation. It's recognized as an educational facility and a place where special events can be hosted," she added.

"The accomplishments we are highlighting today are outstanding. I applaud the County Executive for working with the Freeholders to make Turtle Back Zoo the special place it is today," Freeholder Patricia Sebold said.

Sheriff Armando Fontoura noted that he regularly brings his grandchildren to Turtle Back Zoo. "My grandchildren love the train ride and the Reptile Center. They want to come here," he said. "This is a great place and the people who work here should be proud of the way they maintain it," the Sheriff added.

Attendance: A new all-time attendance record was established for the third consecutive year with 340,358 visitors coming to Turtle Back Zoo. This represents a 35 percent increase in attendance over 2006 and is more than double the annual attendance when DiVincenzo first took office in 2003.

The growing popularity of Turtle Back Zoo is the result of the increasing number of exciting animal attractions, such as the opening of the Black Bear Exhibit and the Essex Farm Petting Zoo in 2005, Reptile & Education Building in 2006, and the Wild New Jersey Exhibit and Red Panda Exhibit in 2007. Turtle Back Zoo also is home to rare and endangered species, including the Bog Turtle (New Jersey's most critically endangered turtle), Red Panda (fewer than 2,000 remain in the world), Amur Leopard (fewer than 200 are in captivity and only 20 remain in the wild) and Black Dragon Monitor Lizard (Turtle Back is the only Zoo in North America to have them on public display).

The original attendance record of 211,044 was set in 1986 and is now the fourth highest total. Attendance fell to an all-time low in 1995 when just 119,995 people came and had been hovering around 165,000 people prior to DiVincenzo being elected.

Several other attendance records were set at Turtle Back Zoo this year.

The single-day paid attendance record of 4,193 visitors was set at the First Annual Party for the Planet Earth Day on Sunday, April 22nd. The old record of 3,018 lasted just one day - it was set on Saturday, April 21st. The two days combined to establish a new weekend record of 7,211. Before 2007, the single-day record was 2,805 set on August 13, 2006 and the weekend record was 5,604 set on August 13 and 14, 2006.

The single-day non-paid attendance record of 7,277 visitors was set at the Fifth Annual Essex County Open House in June.

Revenue: The dramatic increase in attendance has resulted in a corresponding rise in revenue. The amount of revenue collected at Turtle Back rose for the fourth consecutive year and, for the first time in the 45-year history of the Zoo, the $1 million revenue mark was surpassed. Before DiVincenzo took office, between $600,000 and $650,000 was collected.


Expanded Programming: Several new special events were developed to raise nature awareness and appreciation for animals, as well as provide year-round activities.

The Essex County-Prudential Foundation Holiday Light Spectacular featured over 100,000 light bulbs that illuminated 50 animal and winter figures. The new winter tradition was open every night from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve and provided a family-friendly entertainment event that featured performances by local school choirs and caroling groups. More than 15,000 people enjoyed the Spectacular.

Party for the Planet on Sunday, April 22nd was the first Earth Day event held at the Zoo and was sponsored in conjunction with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The one-day activity provided visitors with information and raised awareness about conservation.

Turtle Back Zoo became the place to trick or treat at the First Annual Safe Halloween Event in October. Working in cooperation with about 20 local businesses, children came to the Zoo dressed in their costumes. The Safe Halloween Event complimented the regular Halloween activities of Rat and Bat Night.

The Zoo also was the center of attention at the Fifth Annual Essex County Open House in June. The popular event has been held at the Zoo for the last three years and this year attracted 7,277 people who were provided with free admission. This attendance figure is the highest one-day total for non-paid admission. Hosted by County Executive DiVincenzo, the Open House informs visitors about the programs and services available through Essex County.

An ongoing schedule of Wildlife Workshops, Mommy and Me classes, and special events are also held to spotlight individual animals or environmental issues.

New Exhibits: DiVincenzo continued his initiative to modernize the Zoo's animal facilities and create new exhibits. This year, the Wild New Jersey North American Animal Exhibit, featuring animals that are native to New Jersey - the Bobcat, Eagle and Porcupine, and the Red Panda Exhibit opened in August. Meanwhile, an expanded and revamped natural habitat Wolf Exhibit was unveiled in April.

Story Boxes and Zoo Keys also made a comeback after a 15-year hiatus. The souvenir Zoo Keys cost $3 and can be used to operate the Story Boxes. When turned in one direction, recorded information about an animal can be heard. When turned in the opposite direction, a song about the animal is played. The Story Boxes are regularly relocated throughout the Zoo so different animals can be highlighted and new commemorative keys will be sold in the future.

"Turtle Back Zoo is an exciting place where lessons about nature and conservation are brought to life in an interactive, family-friendly environment. Our rare and exotic animals mesmerize our visitors and our playground, train ride and soon-to-open carousel provide entertaining activities," Turtle Back Zoo Director Dr. Jeremy Goodman said.

Partnerships: The County Executive continued to bring in new corporate partners to help modernize the Zoo, build new exhibits or enhance visitors' experiences. In total, DiVincenzo has raised $2.1 million in corporate donations.

NorthFork Bank sponsored the Porcupine Exhibit, Verizon sponsored the Eagle Exhibit and Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield sponsored the Bobcat Exhibit in Wild New Jersey. Wachovia Bank sponsored the Wolf Exhibit. Partnerships also extended beyond the business world. In November, students from the Essex County Vocational School in West Caldwell adopted the Eagles as their official school mascots. In addition, the County continued to work in cooperation with the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the volunteer Docent organization to modernize the Zoo and assist with events.

"Turtle Back Zoo is a beloved facility and we have invested a great deal of time and work to upgrade our facilities so we can provide our animals with modern habitats and our visitors with the best possible experience. The progress we continue to make year after year is the result of the successful partnerships and shared vision we have with our volunteer Docents, Zoological Society and corporate neighbors," DiVincenzo said.

The Future: More improvements are planned for Turtle Back Zoo in the coming year. Construction is underway for a 36-figure zoo animal themed carousel. The new attraction will be open year round and create an ongoing revenue stream to support Zoo operations. Other new exhibits include a bird aviary, Australian-themed exhibit and a new walking course for the Pony Rides.

Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

In September 2006, Essex County Turtle Back Zoo received accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and is among only 217 facilities worldwide that are accredited. Earning accreditation is a clear indication that an institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education.

Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $15 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, including $7 million for the Reptile and Education Center, $1.2 million for the open air dining pavilion and playground, $125,000 for the Otter Exhibit, $100,000 for the Wolf Exhibit, $50,000 for the Alligator Exhibit, $850,000 for the Red Panda Exhibit and entrance enhancements; $800,000 for the Wild New Jersey North American Animal Exhibit, $1.2 million for the 18,000-square-foot Black Bear Exhibit, $2 million for the 6,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Animal Hospital, $500,000 for the 3,360-square-foot Essex Farm Petting Zoo, $10,000 for the 15,000-square-foot South American Animal Exhibit and $500,000 to upgrade fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements. All funding has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Prudential Financial, Inc., Wachovia Bank, PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Pepsi Bottling Company, North Fork Bank, Commerce Bank and Aramark.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system in the United States. It has been expanded to include about 6,000 acres of land. There are 18 parks, four reservations, a zoo, ice skating rink, environmental center, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, miniature golf course, three off-leash dog facilities and a castle. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County's South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.

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