Detroit Zoo’s lions, visitors to get closer

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December 30, 2009

$1M renovation of habitat will provide better view

The Detroit News

Royal Oak — The Detroit Zoo wants visitors to get a closer look at its big cats and has announced plans to raise $1 million to make over the lion habitat.

Plans call for filling in a dry moat barrier that gives visitors an unobstructed view of the animals and replacing it with a glass wall, which will nearly double the space for the lions and afford visitors a closer look, zoo spokeswoman Patricia Mills Janeway said.

“Warming rocks near the glass will provide the lions with a toasty perch from which to view visitors. Trees, plantings and rocks in the visitor area will mirror those in the lions’ habitat, making the experience seem that much more immersive,” Janeway said.

The original lion habitat — at which visitors viewed lions through bars indoors and across the moat outside — was one of the first habitats presented at the grand opening of the zoo in 1928, Janeway said.

In the early 1980s, the 3,500-square-foot habitat underwent a renovation that converted the indoor viewing area to a holding facility and left the moat as it stands today.

Janeway said once the renovation is complete, visitors will be able to observe the lions — Bikira, Katie and Percival, along with three others rescued from a Kansas junkyard in April — doing what they typically do.

“That is, lounge around, sleep, eat and play if they’re so inclined — only they’ll be able to observe from a much closer vantage point,” she said.

The Pardi family of Rochester Hills braved cold temperatures Tuesday afternoon to explore the zoo’s numerous animal habitats.

Julie Pardi said when she told her 5-year-old son, Owen, about plans to renovate the lions’ home, the preschooler was ecstatic.

“He was excited about seeing them fact-to-face. Right now it’s hard to see with little ones. You have to lift them up to see,” said Pardi.

The zoo announced renovation plans in its winter issue of Habitat, a quarterly magazine that is distributed to member households.

Janeway said the zoo is accepting donations, and the zoo’s development staff is also seeking major donors.

The renovation project is in the design phase, and work will begin in the spring. It is scheduled to be completed later in the year.

Eight-year-old Ethan Webster of Royal Oak read about the zoo’s plans to renovate the den and told his parents that he wanted to donate the contents of his piggy bank.

His mom took him to the zoo, where he handed over $17.49 in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to zoo Director Ron Kagan.

In 2008, voters in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties approved a regional tax for the zoo which funds some of its operating needs.

The zoo relies on financial support from individual and corporate donations and grants to expand and improve the animals’ habitats, Janeway said. (734) 462-2289–visitors-to-get-closer


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