Construction pace picks up at Pt. Defiance

The redevelopment of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium continues to pick up, with several new projects set to be completed this year.

Construction fencing has gone up in the zoo’s middle section, where new pathways and plazas leading to the new amphitheater are being developed.

When completed in June of this year, the new pathways will provide zoo patrons with easier access to exhibits, as well as places to rest, be entertained and enjoy the area’s scenic beauty.

The amphitheater stage, which will be home to animal presentations and other shows, is expected to be completed in mid- to late July.

The adjacent animal holding areas and other features are set to be completed in September.

The Animal Health Care Center is about 90 percent completed, said Jean Jackman, the zoo’s public relations and marketing manger, and will open this spring.

The environmentally friendly building will have sophisticated diagnostic and treatment areas, and is located much closer to the animal exhibits, thereby reducing the time and distance required for transporting animals in need of care.

The zoo plans to hold a public open house of the facility, Jackman said, which could involve bringing patients from Mary Bridge Childrens Hospital in Tacoma to the animal hospital and handing out stuffed animals.

The zoo also plans to break ground this spring on the new Asian Forest Sanctuary.

A major new exhibit, the Asian Forest Sanctuary will feature tigers, tapirs, primates and other exotic – and endangered – Asian animals. It is scheduled to open in summer 2004.

To make way for the new exhibit, the building that housed the zoo’s leopards will be torn down. The building’s former residents, however, are not homeless.

Sol, the snow leopard, has been sent on loan to the Ross Park Zoo in Birmingham, N.Y.

Clouded leopards Raja and Josic are being temporarily housed off-exhibit in the World of Adaptations.

Zoo officials are taking all the construction in stride, turning the process into a positive for staff and those who visit the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

During construction, animal handlers and education staff will make more frequent appearances on zoo grounds, offering visitors close encounters with various animals.

In addition, the staff plans to make redevelopment a learning experience for children, who can watch the new exhibits going up and learn how to build a zoo through hands-on activities.

One might think all the new construction is meant for the several new animals that have joined the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium recently, including a blind harbor seal, prehensile-tailed skinks (nocturnal rainforest lizards) and a snowy owl.

The zoo’s projects are being funded by proceeds from a $35 million bond approved by voters in 1999.

When work is completed, about 60 percent of the zoo will have been redeveloped.

All work is scheduled to be done in 2005, in time for the zoo’s centennial celebration.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, an accredited member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association and a facility of Metro Parks Tacoma, is located 5400 North Pearl St.