Thursday, May 30
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What’s New at the Zoo | New animals, Asia, and more!

Anana, the North Carolina Zoo’s female polar bear looks through the glass into the Polar Bear Cave. [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]

ASHEBORO — This year marks the North Carolina Zoo’s 50th anniversary, and while Asia isn’t opening until 2026, 2024 is still a big and busy year for one of the state’s best attractions.

Late last year, the Zoo welcomed their 1millionth guest for the year, and those attendance numbers are not letting up. In April, the Zoo recorded a record for single-month attendance with 192,000 guests, and the Zoo says it is approaching 30 million all-time visitors. Whoever it happens to be is going to be in for a surprise.

Summer comes to the Zoo

Each April, as temperatures and the number of daily guests rise, the Zoo switches into summer mode. The entrance in Africa is open, and the Zoo remains open until 5 p.m. each day through October, with entry into the park ending at 4 p.m. Summer also means seasonal attractions are opening back up.

On May 1, the Kaleidoscope Butterfly Garden opened for the season. The attraction is a walk-through habitat featuring dozens of butterfly species living among tropical plants and colorful flowers. It’s located in Junction Plaza and open daily from the start of the park’s day until 4:30 p.m. through Oct. 31 (weather dependent). Tickets are $3 per guest and can be purchased at the ticket booth near the Junction Tram Stop.

Also open since April 1st is the Acacia Station Giraffe Deck, where you can get eye-to-eye with the Zoo’s giraffes. Listed as View 4 on the park map, the Giraffe Deck is an extra $5 per person but comes with the chance to feed a giraffe. The deck is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., weather and animal permitting, until Oct. 31. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance to the deck.

Dogs perform amazing acts of training and acrobatics at the The Canine Champions for Conservation attraction at the NC Zoo. [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]

Making its return for a second year, Canine Champions for Conservation is a fun, high-energy show starring dogs rescued from shelters that raises awareness and support for conservation efforts. Located in Africa between the Junction and Gorilla habitat shows run twice daily at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sundays, and Tuesday through Friday starting Memorial Day weekend. Admission is free with entry to the Zoo.

Find out more about other attractions on the Zoo’s newly updated website!

New Animals

If you’ve visited the zoo recently, you might have noticed signs announcing the arrival of a new ostrich later this year. Behind the scenes, preparations are already underway. A 2-year-old female ostrich, recently arrived at the zoo, is being introduced to the zebras and giraffes with whom she will soon share a habitat. Officials note that the introduction process can be lengthy, and as such, they have not yet set a date for when she will make her public debut.

Speaking of new animals, during the Zoo council meeting on May 8, officials confirmed that penguins will be coming to the zoo in the future and a lot of them. The current plan has Zoo staff moving the last remaining seal from their habitat in the Rocky Coast before beginning extensive renovations. No timeline has been announced for when they expect to close the seal exhibit or when the penguins may arrive.

A Komodo Dragon destined for Asia when it opens in 2026 hangs out in it’s current home in the Desert Dome. [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]

At the Desert Dome, Jake and Zuri, the Von der Decken hornbills who arrived late last year, have recently become parents. For those who missed our previous coverage, the birthing process for these birds is unique. It spans two months and involves the female being sealed inside a hollow tree. During this time, she lays eggs, hatches them, and cares for the chicks, all while being supported by the male. Currently, Zuri remains sealed in where she is believed to be tending to several chicks. The animal care staff are monitoring them and report that the pair are doing everything they need to be, and they are optimistic everything is going well. Visitors to the Desert Dome are encouraged to observe the enclosure, where they might catch a glimpse of this fascinating reproductive process.

While you are in the Desert Dome, catch a glimpse of the Komodo dragon in a temporary habitat, patiently awaiting the opening of Asia with the rest of us.

Asia Update
In May of 2024 the North Carolina Zoo announced that major construction on Asia was over 80% complete. [Scott Pelkey | North State Journal]

Major construction on the upcoming Asia expansion is more than 80% complete and expected to be done by October. If the timeline holds, the Zoo is aiming for a target opening date for the exhibit in June 2026.

Zoo staff have already started horticultural work inside the Asia exhibit, and the Zoo is actively working on animal acquisitions. Several animals destined for the Asia exhibit are already at the zoo, including a Komodo dragon currently in the Desert Dome in North America. The new Komodo dragon habitat in Asia will feature an underwater viewing area that allows guests to observe the reptiles swimming underwater, a feature not seen at many other zoos. Also already at the Zoo are the gibbon(s), Coming very soon will be the main star of Asia, the tiger.

The zoo has already started hiring some of the planned more than 100 staff that will be needed for Asia. So far, the budget has mostly held with the Zoo reporting $2.2 million in updates from the initial budget of $74.5 million. According to officials, the additional cost will be funded through state dollars.

Don’t miss this upcoming event at the Zoo!

There is exciting news coming for Randolph County residents. Stay tuned to Randolph News Now next week to find out more!