Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The unexpected, but timely, trumpeting of elephants served as background sound effects during the Monday ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the ABQ BioPark Zoo’s elephant overlook and event deck.
Because of supply line delays, the deck is still awaiting the installation of permanent safety railings. Consequently, it’s not quite ready for the public to walk up the ramp and get an expansive view of the 5-acre elephant habitat, said Shelle Sanchez, director of the city Department of Arts and Culture. She did not know when that might occur, but she expected it would be soon.
The deck will also be used as a covered event space that can accommodate about 150 people. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller noted that shade is the No. 1 thing people request at the BioPark.
The completion of the overlook deck concludes Phase 1 of the zoo’s new Asia exhibit. Phase 2, projected for completion next fall, will provide expanded space for the zoo’s orangutans, snow leopards, Malayan tigers, Steller’s sea eagles and some of the lesser apes, such as siamangs.
The entire Asia exhibit will spread across 4.5 acres of previously undeveloped land at the north end of the zoo.
Despite their mammoth size, when elephants were congregating toward the back of their exhibit space, visitors previously had trouble seeing them. That is no longer the situation.
“Our elephant program is one of the most advanced in the country,” said Stephanie Stowell, ABQ BioPark director. “This deck makes it possible for guests to get an incredible view of the elephants’ daily activities, which were previously difficult to observe. Because it’s so large, this deck will allow many guests to linger and learn more about the elephants’ natural behaviors.”
The zoo has four female and two male elephants. The oldest is Irene, at 54, and the youngest is Thorn, at 3½.
Patti Williams, a board member of the New Mexico BioPark Society, the financial and educational support organization for the BioPark, thanked Albuquerque residents for voting to approve the 2016 gross receipts tax that is funding the $28 million Asia exhibit.
The GRT will provide $255 million to the BioPark over 15 years. The GRT also funded the bulk of the $18 million Penguin Chill exhibit, which opened in 2019.
The BioPark consists of the zoo, the Botanic Garden, the Aquarium and Tingley Beach. The various components of the BioPark attract more than 1 million people during a typical, non-COVID year, and the BioPark Zoo sees nearly 800,000 visitors each year, Sanchez said.