Guests explored Tortoise Trek with tours inside the building, zookeeper interactions, casual conversations and light refreshments with turtle-shaped sugar cookies.
“This new highly interactive exhibit gives guests the opportunity to see tortoises and macaws in a barrier-free environment,” said John Chapo, the zoo’s president and CEO.
The exhibit is home to the Galapagos Tortoise Conservation Center as well as red-footed, leopard and African spurred tortoises. Three types of macaws also reside at Tortoise Trek. Blue and gold, scarlet, and hyacinth macaws (the largest of the parrot family) have perches throughout the habitat.
“We are excited about another opportunity to get nose to nose with our amazing animals,” Chapo said.
At 230 feet long, Tortoise Trek is the largest habitat at the zoo, he said. It is located across from Laura’s Butterfly Pavilion and wallaby habitat.
A year-round home
The animals can be viewed year-round since the exhibit includes both indoor and outdoor habitats. The building was designed with breeding in mind, including elements such as humidity chambers to keep the tortoises at an ideal temperature, natural lighting with large windows and skylights, heated floors that can be set to different temperatures, soil-filled pits mixed with lava rock for future egg-laying, and pools for soaking and drinking.
The animals are likely to live at the zoo for a very long time.
“Turtles and tortoises have a long range of aging, anywhere from 70 to 170 years,” Chapo said. “The Galapagos is one of the longest-lived tortoises with documented ages exceeding 150 years. The Macaws are among the longest-lived bird species and will likely live into their 60s.”
Entering the Tortoise Trek exhibit, one can’t miss seeing a familiar sight – the tortoise statue.
“The tortoise statue was donated 25 years ago on the zoo’s 25th anniversary,” Chapo said. “We wanted to celebrate the zoo’s original logo of a child riding on a tortoise. Dean Petersen was Lincoln’s mayor when the zoo opened in 1965, and his family donated the funds for the tortoise statue in his memory. It’s been moved around the zoo over the years and has finally found a perfect landing spot.”
An interactive feature that kids will enjoy is a crawl-in tortoise shell, which will be located in the play area near a double-wide, 12-foot-long Bird’s-Eye Slide.
Donors made Tortoise Trek possible
The Lancaster County Board Visitors Improvement Fund gave the largest gift for building the Tortoise Trek exhibit. However, total private donations more than exceeded the Lancaster County fund gift, Chapo said. The names of donors who provided generous contributions are displayed on turtle-shaped plaques on the building’s wall. They include Denise and Ed Mundorf, WRK Family Foundation, Great Western Bank, Pegler Family Foundation, BVH Architects, ETI Engineering and ABC Electric. Loved ones memorialized with family gifts to Tortoise Trek include Betty and Harvey Hales, Barbara Peters, Kit Scott, Stuart Tallman and Rich Wiese.