Cheyenne Mountain Zoo could see its first baby hippo in 30 years and care for its first adult penguin thanks to a center being erected for endangered species, zoo officials say.
These predictions were made during the demolition last week of the zoo's nearly 60-year-old aquatics building. The ceremony marked the first step toward a $10.4 million exhibit for endangered African penguins, hippos and other animals, expected to open as early as spring 2019.
"Everybody loves our animals here, and everybody wants the best for them, " zoo President and CEO Bob Chastain said.
Heavy equipment ripped into the aquatics building's back side, destroying the structure whose outdated air-filtration system affected penguins' sensitive respiratory systems. Zookeepers were excited in January about Penny, an African penguin who became the first chick at the zoo to survive past 10 days.
But Penny died after 54 days.
Chastain said the new center can house penguins into adulthood, thanks to a Making Waves fundraising campaign that will go toward a state-of-the-art filtration system to reduce water use at the aquatics building, currently 60,000 gallons a day.
The new center will have enough room to house:
◘ Up to five hippos, including Nile hippos Zambezi and Kasai, who were moved to a Missouri zoo;
◘ About 18 African penguins. The flock is staying at a New York zoo;
◘ A lemur island in the middle of the hippos exhibit;
◘ Gazelles, saddle-billed storks and other bird species in the hippos' outdoor grazing area;
◘ A walk-through bridge over the hippos.
GE Johnson is erecting the center, having built other exhibits at the zoo.
Chastain said he hopes all the features will bring in more visitors. Last year, a record of about 780,000 people visited the zoo.
Demolition was at least one year in the making, zoo officials said. The zoo has raised $10.2 million through donations from individuals and foundations but still needs about $200,000.
To contribute to the Making Waves campaign, visit cmzoo.org/makingwaves.