Gift will expand snow leopard exhibit at Michigan zoo

By Nick Schirripa
Special to the State Journal
Published November 25, 2006

BATTLE CREEK – Binder Park Zoo is growing, thanks to a gift from brothers and Battle Creek natives Jeff and Doug Smith.

Their $500,000 donation to honor their parents will fund a new home for the zoo’s two snow leopards and a new amphitheater, both of which are expected to debut in the 2008 season.

“This is a significant contribution to the zoo’s conservation efforts,” said zoo marketing manager Kari Parker. “Being a nonprofit organization, we rely heavily on donors’ generosity to satisfy our mission to nurture empathy, understanding and conservation of nature.”

The current snow leopard exhibit was built 21 years ago to house Siberian lynx and was modified in 1997 when the snow leopards arrived. The 12-year-old male and 9-year-old female snow leopards’ new exhibit will be several times larger than the current exhibit.

It will feature rock piles, trees and more roaming space to more closely replicate their natural habitat in Central Asia mountains. Among the shadows of overhanging branches, a large temperature-controlled boulder will be positioned close to viewing areas to provide guests with more visibility of the snow leopards, Parker said.

Children will be able to crawl their way through logs to get a closer look from a protected glassed area inside the exhibit.

Also as part of the Smiths’ gift, the zoo is set to build a new theater, Parker said. The new Smith Wildlife Discovery Amphitheater will seat 300 people, about three times the seating in the existing amphitheater.

The new theater will be closer to the children’s zoo, Parker said. It will feature new sound and lighting systems, as well as an animal holding and support building to house the animals that participate in the programs.

Parker said construction is expected to begin this winter on the new Smith Snow Leopard Exhibit and the Smith Wildlife Discovery Amphitheater.

Jeff and Doug Smith both are Battle Creek Central High School graduates. Their parents, Wendell “Pete” and Leona Smith, have been involved in several community boards and agencies.

Contact Nick Schirripa of the Battle Creek Enquirer at (269) 966-0692 or nschirrip@battlecr.gannett.com.

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