NEWTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Binder Park Zoo near Battle Creek is building a new $700,000 habitat for its endangered Mexican gray wolves.
While a private donor funded more than half the project, a large chunk of the money is coming from various grants. That included about $25,000 from the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau and, most recently, $50,000 from the state-backed Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs awarded Friday.
Zoo officials say the current gray wolf habitat is outdated and too small. The new one, which will be in a different part of the zoo in an exhibit on North American animals, will be much larger.
The current habitat has an area where visitors can view the wolves from above, which is no longer considered the best practice. Because Binder Park Zoo is part of a breeding program aimed at increasing the wild population, it’s not ideal for the wolves to be too comfortable with people. The new habitat will have more space for the wolves to hide out or create dens for breeding and a ground-level viewing area.
The viewing area will have space for teaching about the wolves. Additionally, back holding for the animals will be better.
Though a firm timetable has not yet been set, zoo officials say they hope to break ground this fall and wrap up construction as early as the spring. Weather, of course, could delay finishing the exhibit.
“The new exhibit will not only provide a larger, more suitable habitat for the wolves to thrive in, but will help us redouble our efforts towards the breeding of these animals with the goal of future releases back into the wild,” Brett Linsley, the manager of wildlife, conservation and education for the zoo, said in a Tuesday statement.
Mexican gray wolves are the most critically endangered species of gray wolf. There are only about 350 left in the world, about 115 of which are in the wild.
Binder Park Zoo has been part of a survival breeding program since 1992. A wolf born at the zoo was released in 1998 and ultimately became the first Mexican gray wolf to give birth in the wild in over 50 years.
The zoo currently has one adult breeding pair of wolves. That pair produced four pups this summer, though three of them later died: one of pneumonia and the other two of Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
In addition to the money earmarked for the wolves, the MCACA is awarding the zoo another $15,000 grant for general operations, things like keeping the lights on and water running.
Zoo President and CEO Diane Thompson said in a statement thta the grants will “allow us to not only enhance the overall guest experience but make improvements that positively impacts our mission of conservation here at the zoo.”