Fort Worth Zoo unveils first stage of $100 million makeover: African Savanna

FORT WORTH -- The Metroplex is fortunate to have not just one, but two exceptional zoos, and Fort Worth's is getting even better with its new African Savanna, a 10-acre renovation and expansion that brings visitors closer to several species.

"It's so beautiful," says Ramona Bass, the zoo board's co-chairwoman who shepherded the fundraising campaign for the project.  "I didn't even dream that it would be so beautiful."

The centerpiece of the area is an open plain in which several species of animals are now living together after having their own enclosures, and Bass says she's noticed a difference in their demeanor since being put together.

"They're much more active; they're engaging with each other.  They've never seen each other.  The giraffe and the kudu were like, 'What are you?'  I just think it's much healthier for them to be with other species like they would be in the wild."

The layout of the plain allows people to get much closer to the animals than before and even feed the giraffes, but the most stunning difference is the hippopotamus pen.  Bass says their previous enclosure was "a glorified bathtub" and it was usually impossible to see them since there was no underwater or elevated viewing area for visitors.  Now, they've got a pachyderm penthouse!

"We've raised it to what's probably a world-class hippo exhibit in the sense that it is a true river," says the zoo's executive director, Michael Fouraker.  "That water runs by 70 feet of underwater viewing glass, then it runs underground and makes a circle back.  [So] the animals can pick their feet up and float with it or they can swim upstream; we can vary the current.  Just a lot of new experiences for them."

The animals were moved to their new homes using special trailers or crates.  Most of them were cool with it, but one had a tough time leaving his old home behind.

"One of the rhinos was so outraged," says Bass, "he started flinging logs out of his enclosure!"

Hey, we get it.  Moving can be emotional!

The African Savanna, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the first stage of a four-part, $100 million makeover for the entire zoo called "A Wilder Vision" which is scheduled to be completed in 2025.  The next phase will reconstruct the elephant enclosure and is scheduled to open in 2020.