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African Dwarf crocodile

An African Dwarf crocodile shows its teeth at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, 27th and B streets. The zoo is home to over 400 animals, including three new giraffes joining the zoo family as part of a major expansion funded by a capital campaign. Spider monkeys and Sumatran tigers are also on the way and will be part of the zoo’s move to everyday operations in the spring of 2019.

The biggest expansion in the Lincoln Children Zoo's 53-year history has brought out the kid in John Chapo.

Not that the kid side of the zoo’s president and CEO didn’t exist before, but some improvements of historic proportions are creating quite a stir at 1222 S. 27th St. for Chapo, the zoo’s members and the community.

With the zoo’s three giraffes now adjusting to their cozy new environs, new spider monkeys swinging in next spring and a few Sumatran tigers arriving yet this fall (becoming neighbors of the zoo’s two snow leopards), who could blame Chapo for being giddy about what’s on the horizon?

From the annual Boo at the Zoo, coming to the grounds at 27th and B streets for a five-night engagement beginning Oct. 26, to the arrival of a year-around schedule of zoo hours beginning in March 2019, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo is a hubbub of excitement.

Here are a few of the reasons why:

What’s happening

Chapo is willing to stick his neck out (ahem!) in saying the new area housing the three giraffes is “the finest giraffe facility in the country,” complete with heating and air-conditioning and heated floors, as well as indoor and outdoor feeding platforms.

It’s a pretty tall order, but all three giraffes now call the Lincoln zoo home. The “human rubberneckers” can see the giraffes on a regular basis beginning next spring.

The zoo is known for its up-close-and-personal approach. The giraffe exhibit will be no exception. “You’ll be able to feed the giraffes (leaf lettuce and branches with leaves),” said Chapo.

The tiger habitat will feature several viewing and encounter points, an expansive area of rock work for the tigers to roam, a water feature where they can play and an indoor habitat with zookeeper training space.

In one of the viewing areas, children can sit in the driver’s seat of a safari vehicle next to a tiger. The vehicle, divided in half by a large piece of glass, provides space for a tiger and guest to sit side by side. How’s that for interactivity?

The new indoor animal and play area, located in the historic zoo building, will feature a climbing structure that will share space with the spider monkeys. The climber is being created for children of all ages, including adults.

Red pandas moving up

A couple of the existing zoo’s most popular animals will get even more exposure next spring. The exhibit featuring the zoo’s two red pandas will relocate in 2019 to a spot where they will greet the zoo’s guests as they arrive, followed by the zoo’s new splash area.

The zoo’s new look will also mean a new facility for the Lincoln Public Schools Science Focus Program, aka Zoo School, now in its 21st year.

The zoo by the numbers

Chapo says that a wet 2018, which has challenged construction workers building the expansion, hasn’t dampened interest in the zoo.

With the zoo becoming an everyday attraction beginning next spring, the zoo expects the annual total attendance figure to reach 400,000 by 2020. The zoo’s current seven-month schedule makes it the third-most-attended arts and cultural attraction in Nebraska.

Other zoo facts and figures shared by Chapo:

• The zoo awards memberships valued at $250,000 each year to low-income families.

• An enlarged parking lot will accompany the enlarged zoo: 400 parking spots will be available.

• The zoo’s annual operating budget is $4 million. Chapo said it was $300,000 when he joined the Lincoln zoo in 1986.

• Folsom Children’s Zoo was renamed Lincoln Children’s Zoo in 2006.

• About 1 million pieces of candy will be handed out during Boo at the Zoo, a huge attraction running from 5:30 to 8 p.m. five consecutive nights beginning Oct. 26. Workers at the more than 40 trick-or-treat booths will be distributing candy and coupons. Ticket information is at www.lincolnzoo.org.

The last day of the zoo’s regular season is Tuesday, Oct. 16. It will be closed Oct. 17-25 to prepare for Boo at the Zoo.

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