Zoo Atlanta to build reptile house

Zoo Atlanta announced a $25 million capital campaign Wednesday morning to construct a new amphibian and reptile house.

The new building would replace the 51-year-old reptile house that is the oldest exhibit structure at the zoo.

The capital campaign is already 90 percent complete, zoo CEO Raymond King told a group of zoo supporters and elected officials who gathered at the zoo’s Ford Conservation Conference Room. King said after the meeting that the zoo expects to break ground for the new facility by summer, and construction would take two years.

The loss of reptiles and amphibians — many are endangered or have gone extinct in recent years, particularly in Latin America — represents the “worst example of extinctions since the dinosaurs,” he said. The improved reptile facility will allow more animals to be placed on exhibit and will help the zoo tell the story of its effort to combat this devastating loss.

King, a 22-year-year veteran of the banking industry, arrived as the zoo’s CEO in 2010 when Dennis Kelly left to manage the National Zoo in Washington.

Under King’s leadership the zoo has increased its attendance by 30 percent, drawing 866,000 visitors in 2012. King says attendance that year was exceeded only by the year that the zoo acquired its first giant panda.

“That tells me two things,” King told the group. “One, we’re doing a particularly good job on our end, but it also tells me there is enhanced demand for what people call edutainment, or good quality family educational entertainment.”

Zoo Atlanta has had an eventful year.

Among the new arrivals were a baby born to the Western lowland gorilla Lulu (who is part of Willie B’s tribe) and a new infant for Blaze the Sumatran orangutan.

There were also some sad departures. Chief among those was the loss of Ivan, the geriatric gorilla, who died in August, and whose semi-tragic journey from a shopping mall cage in Washington state to Zoo Atlanta’s sunny landscape was captured in Katherine Applegate’s prize-winning novel “The One and Only Ivan.”

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