JACKSONVILLE (Sept. 25, 2020) — Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens was presented with the Exhibit Award for Innovation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) during the Honors and Awards ceremony at the 2020 AZA Virtual Annual Conference for its African Forest exhibit.

“The construction of African Forest was a milestone for us at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and a testament to how we have spent more than 106 years at the very forefront of animal care and wellness, wildlife education, and conservation. Coupling a wellness-inspired design with a multisensory rich environment not only enhances the guest experience, but also creates a shared understanding of and passion for animal conservation,” said Executive Director Tony Vecchio.  

African Forest opened in September 2018 as a 2.7-acre, wellness-inspired habitat in the heart of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Choices, challenges, and variation in exhibit design are key features within the area housing western lowland gorillas, bonobos, mandrills, Angolan colobus monkeys, guereza colobus monkeys, Coquerel’s sifaka, ring-tail lemurs, black and white ruffed lemurs, blueeyed black lemurs, and mongoose lemurs.

The Zoo has a Behavioral Wellness team, led by Dr. Terry Maple, which studied the animals prior to construction and continues to document optimal animal welfare and wellness. This includes how the animals engage their spaces as well as with guests. The animal residents have access to the iconic 40-foot Kapok tree with built-in enrichment and observation features. A series of treeheight overhead trails not only provide animals with more freedom and choices to explore their environment, but also offer guests differing views from every vantage point.

Through close-up interactions, the Zoo fosters a passion to protect these species. African Forest is the first exhibit at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens where the facility supports conservation work for each of the taxa featured in the collection through significant long-term funding, such as the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE).

Through its Exhibit Award, the AZA recognizes excellence in live animal display and exhibit design by an AZA-Accredited Institution or Certified Related Facility member. To win the award, the exhibit must provide high quality animal care, incorporate strong educational programming, provide state-of-the-art safety for employees and guests, deliver an immersive guest experience and demonstrate a connection to conserving the species in the wild.

“We are delivering educational, enriching, and memorable experiences and are very pleased with how this exhibit has been received in our community and throughout our industry,” said Vecchio. “On behalf of our board, staff, and donors, I would like to thank the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for this prestigious award.” 

African Forest is the third exhibit to be recognized through the AZA Exhibit Award. In 2005, the Zoo received Top Honors for Range of the Jaguar, thrusting the Zoo into the national spotlight and acting as the catalyst to enhance the guest experience and providing top-notch care for animals. In 2015, Land of the Tiger followed when it was recognized with Significant Achievement for its exhibit design.

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About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and 12 other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.


About Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

For over 100 years, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has aimed to inspire the discovery and appreciation of wildlife through innovative experiences in a caring environment. Starting in 1914 with an animal collection of one red deer fawn, the Zoo now has more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and 1,000 species of plants, boasting the largest botanical garden in Northeast Florida. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a nonprofit organization and a portion of every ticket sold goes to the over 45 conservation initiatives Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens supports around the world, and here in NE Florida. JZG is proud to be an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. For more information, visit jacksonvillezoo.org.