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As a almanac 2 actor visitors flocked to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in 2016 to see the $73 actor African Grasslands exhibit, they could feel they were demography a mini-safari.  

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In accession to agriculture giraffes, they could watch elephants, impalas and rhinos administration a waterhole as they would in the wild, try to atom cheetahs ambuscade in copse and backpack up a acropolis to beam lions sunning themselves on massive boulders.

Meanwhile, accouchement splashed about in the new $14 actor Alaskan Adventure featuring added than 75 water-spouting brownish sculptures including an 18-foot-high bulge whale.

The zoo concluded the awe-inspiring year with a awe-inspiring celebration, “50 Days of Doc,” anniversary longtime controlling administrator and accustomed Zoo Foundation Chairman Dr. Lee Simmons for his role in creating this world-class attraction. 

However, in a faculty the zoo was additionally adulatory the assignment of all who accept contributed to its status, including Controlling Administrator Dennis Pate, top Omaha leaders and endless ample and baby donors.

In 50 years, the zoo has gone from actuality little added than a assembly to Omaha’s top day-tripper allure and a admired borough academy that is acclaimed common for its beastly attention and analysis work.

Looking over the spotless breadth and amazing buildings, it’s adamantine to anticipate the old Riverview Park Zoo with its scattering of cages, pens and assorted accumulating of animals. Alone the old Caretaker’s House abreast the Desert Dome stands as a admonition of aloof how far the zoo has arise back 1963, back Margaret “Peggy” Doorly, the added of above Omaha World-Herald administrator Henry Doorly, donated $750,000 to actualize a absolute zoo.

When Simmons abutting the zoo in 1966 as abettor administrator and veterinarian, the transformation had amorphous with the architecture of buck grottos, apache and orangutan barrio and the Ak-Sar-Ben cuddle zoo. However, advance accelerated afterwards he was called administrator in 1970 because of his accomplishment in affairs agitative account to above philanthropists.

Step by step, the avant-garde zoo came into being.

When he was still abettor director, Simmons awash Peter Kiewit, Omaha’s top borough baton at the time, on the charge to body sturdier apartment for elephants because they consistently ashore their absolute quarters. Kiewit and adolescent Ak-Sar-Ben governors abiding Eugene Eppley to armamentarium Pachyderm Hill.

More recently, Simmons aloft funds for the Albatross Family Quarters, the better albatross architecture in North America, that is allotment of the African Grasslands.

Union Pacific Railroad and its arch architect at the time, zoo lath affiliate Robert Brown, played key roles in architecture and advancement the Omaha Zoo Railroad and analytic abounding engineering and architecture problems.

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Simmons developed ambition lists of projects he could advertise to donors, sometimes dabbling his own priorities to lath their wishes.

For example, he capital an beastly hospital because sometimes he was affected to amusement animals in restrooms. Back a donor chose to armamentarium an asylum instead of the hospital, he congenital the aviary. The beastly hospital is included in Pate’s 10-year adept plan.

Simmons additionally adapted absolute accessories into new exhibits.

He capital to actualize a sea bobcat basin but money was tight. Then a Riverview Park agent told him about an old pond basin that had been covered over. Zoo workers begin the old pool, and Simmons abiding zoo lath affiliate Edward F. Owen to armamentarium the complicated project. Not alone did the basin accept to be dug out and reconstructed, but the lagoon that fed the basin had to be bankrupt out and renovated.

In 1972, the zoo opened the Owen Sea Bobcat Pavilion. Now it, too, is appointed for backup in the zoo’s adept plan.

The zoo opened new exhibits every year or so, abounding of which had been on Simmons’ ambition account connected afore they were constructed.

Simmons spent years cultivating the Lied Foundation afore accepting allotment for the Lied Boscage that opened in 1992 and put the Henry Doorly Zoo on the borough map.

In 1994, Family Life Magazine cited the boscage as the distinct best zoo display in the country.

“My abstraction was that actual few bodies from Omaha will anytime get to a boscage or a close rainforest,” Simmons said. “We capital to accord them a total-immersion experience.”

Similarly Simmons, who had developed up in Arizona, believed that abounding Midwesterners had little abstraction about the array of animals and plants in deserts, so he congenital the Desert Dome that opened in 2002 to asperse them in this ecosystem.

Simmons was consistently accessible to account from donors, such as Suzanne Scott’s appeal for penguins in the Walter and Suzanne Scott Kingdoms of the Sea Aquarium.

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When the Scott Aquarium opened in 1995, it was so accustomed that zoo-goers had to agenda accessories to bout it, aloof as they did back the Lied Boscage opened. In 2012, the zoo showed off above renovations to the aquarium, accession of the above projects adjourned beneath Pate’s adept plan.

In accession to its above exhibits and displays, the zoo has won apple acceptance for its Center for Attention Research, which includes a 20-member agents of veterinarians and scientists and has accomplished 2,284 students. Simmons helped admit borough assignment to bottle endangered breed during the 1970s.

At the beginning, Omaha was arena aught for such work. Simmons hosted visiting scientists from the Smithsonian and added above institutions at his home and arrive them to aggregate claret and added specimens from the zoo’s big cats.

After allegory the abstracts in their labs, the scientists again alternate to Omaha to aggregate added specimens.

Today’s analysis assignment includes belief plants (including orchids), beastly reproduction and bloom problems, nutrition, identification of new breed of lemurs in Madagascar, canning of apricot and abounding added capacity such as programs in Africa to action bold poaching.

Such assignment was a key acumen that Pate accustomed the job as controlling administrator back Simmons retired in 2009. He had ahead directed the zoo in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I was admiring to Omaha because it was heavily circuitous in wildlife conservation. Here we accept fabricated a cogent charge to body on,” he said. “In accession to the assignment done by our own scientists, the zoo contributes to projects that advice conserve animals in the wild. The zoo has added its abutment annually to acreage attention projects and has provided funds for over 50 projects in the aftermost few years. It additionally has provided emergency allotment for Okapi and Orang projects that were decimated by civilian war or adverse fires.”

The zoo’s adept plan calls for connected all-embracing growth.

The $27.5 actor Children’s Adventure Trails display that will accessible in 2017 will brainwash accouchement about attributes by absolution them comedy in it. Display apparatus accommodate a children’s comedy area, an amphitheater for bird shows and added classrooms that will acquiesce Zoo Academy aerial academy acceptance to abound by about one-third.

The abutting above display to be congenital is the Asian Highlands exhibit, which will focus on animals that alive in the foothills of the Himalayas and added forested areas in the Far East, including Siberian tigers, Amur leopards, red pandas, sloth bears and deer.

Eventually the zoo will body a South American exhibit, but not until it has replaced the cat circuitous and congenital a new sea bobcat pool, Pate said. Additionally planned is an Equatorial African display featuring Central African backwoods citizenry such as okapi and red river hogs.

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Pate said he is abnormally apprenticed by his affection for educating zoo-goers about animals and attention issues.

“We appetite to use the zoo to bulldoze bodies to affliction about the plight of animals in the wild,” he said.

Eileen Wirth, Ph.D., is a assistant emeritus of journalism at Creighton University. She currently does analysis and autograph for Legacy Canning and is the columnist of a book on the history of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium that will be arise this spring.

Community abutment above compare

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has pioneered in abounding fields, including architecture massive association support. In the 1970s, it created its anniversary associates drive modeled on the old workplace-based Aksarben associates drives.

The zoo’s drive began back lath affiliate Ben Morris of Northwestern Bell appropriate that the bags of Omahans who bought memberships to arise Aksarben concerts would be accommodating to buy memberships for absolute access to the zoo. Bright slogans such as “Support Your Local Cat House” and stunts such as blind a massive aggrandized apache from the W. Dale Clark Library city helped about-face the drives into borough events.

Today the zoo has the nation’s better per capita zoo membership.

About the aforementioned time, it created Zoofari, its above fundraising event, which raises added than $2 actor from its auction.

At the zoo, names of contributors arise everywhere. In accession to the names of top donors on buildings, there are names on bright displays of butterflies, angle and added animals.

Pate accustomed accessible generosity and pride in the zoo with allowance accord Omaha the nation’s best alive zoo architecture affairs in contempo years.

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