GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The John Ball Zoo is set to open the 2023 season with some new creatures, although not all of them will be on display right away.
When the zoo opens on Friday, weather permitting, visitors can see new bald eagles, a snow leopard, a coati and a sloth. The zoo has also added some new goats and sheep to Red’s Hobby Farm.
“We are so excited to welcome our community back for a new season,” John Ball Zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo said in a release. “Along with new animals joining the Zoo family, we’re looking forward to getting our community excited about (the) conservation of wildlife and wild places. It’s always special to welcome back our families so they can continue learning, having fun and making memories.”
The zoo also expects to put pygmy hippos on display this summer. The pygmy hippo habitat is considered the “centerpiece” of the zoo’s “Time To Soar Campaign” — a capital campaign to grow the zoo and advance the zoo’s mission of “inspiring our community to be actively engaged in the conservation of wildlife and our natural environment.”
The pygmy hippo habitat was funded by approximately $18 million in donations to the campaign. Construction on the exhibit started in August 2021.
Pygmy hippos will be one of the most exotic and endangered animals to be featured at JBZ. There are less than 3,000 pygmy hippos alive in the wild. JBZ is joining a group of accredited zoos to take part in a breeding plan to help grow the species.
The male hippo arrived at the zoo last week and is being cared for behind the scenes. The female hippo will arrive soon.
Two other species that can safely live alongside the pygmy hippos will also live in the habitat: sitatunga and white storks.
Two sitatungas arrived at JBZ last fall and are currently housed in the zoo’s quarantine facility, which is the standard protocol. A 6-year-old male named Chopper and a 5-year-old female named Pecan have already been introduced behind the scenes and zoo officials say things have gone smoothly.
Sitatungas are swamp-dwelling antelope that live across Central Africa. While the species faces overhunting and dwindling habitat, sitatungas are not considered a threatened species.
White storks are also a common sight in Central African plains. The birds spend winter there and travel north into parts of Europe, Asia and north Africa to breed.
An official opening date for the pygmy hippo exhibit has yet to be announced. A zoo official told News 8 that the mixed exhibit is part of the reason for the delay. An exhibit with pygmy hippos, sitatunga and white storks is one of the first of its kind. And while they are confident it will work; the zoo is taking extra precautions to make sure the animals properly adjust to their new home and new roommates.
The zoo will open to the public on Friday. Through March and April, the zoo will be open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends.