The adventure continues at Omaha’s own, award-winning Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Asian Highlands, set to open May 17, the zoo’s newest addition, allowing visitors a whole new way to explore the foothills of the Himalayas and meet the animals that call them home. The immersive exhibit lends visitors the experience of a local mountaineer and their trek along mountain trails and into misty hills.
Dennis Pate, CEO, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and his team have been in the planning process of the three-part project since June 2010.
“Looking down from a 20,000-foot perspective,” he said, the planning team thought temperate Asia would be a welcome addition to the zoo because
“we thought it would really work with our seasons here. All of these animals like being in the cold to varying degrees.”
Featuring an eight-acre, $22 million construction project, Asian Highlands was cultivated thoughtfully to suit visitors of all ages, especially the youngest.
“In every new area we develop, we like to include a children’s area, so one is called ‘Foggy Forest,’ a heavily treed area which has misters for kids on hot summer days and seven life-sized sculptures of animals that have been intricately crafted for young guests to observe some of the animals up close and personal. The misty mountain trails will also be home to the zoo’s first sloth bears in over 40 years, one of which had to be imported from Europe,” Pate said.
Because architecture can give clues as to where visitors may be traveling in the world, said Pate, “even the signage looks like it came off a trail in the Himalayas. It’s been weathered and rusted,” he added. “We looked at a lot of photo references for the foothills of the Himalayas and saw what kind of structures they have,” he explained.
Using this thoughtful outlook, Pate and his team also recently opened a brand-new concessions area with seating for more than 600 people. Glacier Bay Landing, designed in an Alaskan theme, is a massive rest area built not only for the sake of improvement, but also demand.
“Attendance has just skyrocketed,” Pate said. Depending on conditions, the zoo sees an immense number of visitors annually, “between 1.7 million and 2 million,” according to Pate. “That’s a big number, and it’s driven the need for additional restrooms, nursing areas for moms and more food outlets with seats that are shaded.” In fact, during their busiest month of the year, July, an average of approximately 10,000 people visit the zoo every single day!
Thanks to a consistent demand for growth, Pate and his development team continue looking ahead to their next project.
“Generally, if we can, we like to open something every year, I think Omahans look forward to seeing what’s up our sleeve,” he said.
With an immense amount of community donations and a focus toward the future, the Henry Doorly Zoo continues to improve upon its current design. While other zoos around the country typically add exhibits every few years and make minor improvements, Henry Doorly Zoo makes a point of adding new structures and elements to its campus year over year because they know it is what keeps visitors coming back.
Overall, however, Pate’s focus is on the welfare of everyone on zoo property; “wanting to constantly keep upgrading for the sake of the animals.
That may be the most important part for us, to give animals the best housing we possibly can.”
Engaging local contractors, plumbers, electrical engineers, and mechanical engineers, each project the zoo completes helps build the Omaha business community. By utilizing local vendors, that money is then channeled back into Omaha’s economy, promoting overall success and creating jobs. With a philosophy of continuous growth year after year, the zoo is a shining example of what it means to build Omaha from the ground up.