African Forest comes alive in Houston's concrete jungle

African Forest comes alive in Houston's concrete jungle

African Forest comes alive in Houston's concrete jungle

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Houston Zoo & khou.com staff

Posted on November 18, 2010 at 6:07 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 27 at 9:05 PM

HOUSTON – Only a tiny percentage of people will ever experience the thrill of visiting Africa. But soon, you'll be able to venture into the amazing African Forest just a few miles from the concrete jungle of America’s fourth largest city.

The African Forest, the Houston Zoo’s most ambitious undertaking in its 88-year history, is scheduled to open to the public on December 10.

It will vividly recreate an awe-inspiring wilderness habitat featuring chimpanzees, rhinos, and giraffes in an environment reminiscent of the forest landscape of western equatorial Africa. 

Exciting "immersion" exhibits with virtually invisible barriers between guests and the animals will provide an extraordinary adventure for zoo guests. 

"The African Forest will take visitors on an entertaining journey through one of the world’s most mysterious and beautiful places," said Houston Zoo President and CEO Deborah Cannon. "As our guests make their way along their journey, The African Forest will also serve as a dynamic living classroom emphasizing the importance of conserving our natural world."

Covering 6.5 wooded acres, the African Forest will allow visitors to explore and learn in different ways – through traditional signage, interactive elements, and dynamic personal encounters.

The African Forest adventure begins as guests follow a path through a rock portal emerging in an open area that is home to a village trading outpost and nature-based travel camp. 

From the outpost, guests will follow a winding path through a wooded canopy to a large building looking out over a colony of chimpanzees.  This is an observation study site where chimps are enticed to return frequently to search for food in termite mounds or from the limbs of fallen trees.  The building is designed to allow guests and the chimps to come right up to a glass wall and interact.  A wide ledge in front of the glass barrier gives guests a place to sit, relax, enjoy the wildlife and interact with the chimps and fellow visitors.

 Leaving the chimpanzee observation study site, guests will take a winding wooded path to another chimp viewing opportunity.  Following the path through a tunnel that appears to have been carved through solid rock, guests will come upon an open area presenting a mixed species habitat for white rhinos, forest antelope and other African Forest inhabitants. A winding path along an open vista gives guests an unobstructed viewing opportunity. 

Proceeding along the African Forest trail, it’s time to crane your neck upward for a peek at the Masai giraffe habitat with elevated viewing opportunities. One section of the habitat will provide The African Forest guests an intimate and unique opportunity to feed the Zoo’s giraffe herd. Several times each day, guests come nose to nose with the world’s tallest terrestrial animals, offering the zoo’s giraffes approved treats provided at a nominal cost by The African Forest giraffe keepers. 

The chimps and giraffes share the African Forest with a trio of white rhinos that were shipped to Houston in October. Sibindi, Lynne and Annie- Kamariah made the 54-hour journey from Johannesburg inside specially-designed crates on board a cargo plane.

"The rhinos went first class all the way," said Houston Zoo Director Rick Barongi.  "They were accompanied on the flight by a team of veterinarians and animal care specialists from Kruger National Park and the Houston Zoo who had direct access to them at all times to care for them during the trip."

Just one century ago, the white rhino was arguably the most endangered of the five rhino species, having been reduced to only a handful of animals. Its numbers have since rebounded to nearly 17,000, thanks to conservation efforts both in captivity and in the wild. Now, the species is no longer considered endangered.

Source: The Houston Zoo

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