Red River Zoo, based in Fargo, North Dakota, has drafted a 20-year master plan including a new Viking Wilderness area.
A wide range of new animals, including lynxes, tigers, bears, walruses and leopards, look set to join the zoo. The attraction submitted maps to Fargo’s Planning Commission that show a variety of changes. These range from fresh exhibits through new facilities, such as additional parking, to new features, such as a miniature railroad.
According to Sally Jacobson, Red River Zoo‘s Executive Director, the plan is intended to offer zoo staff an idea of where the zoo could go. However she points out that nothing is set in stone.
Red River Zoo opened in 1999. It is currently divided into three themed areas: Farm animals; Asian animals; North American animals.
That still leaves plenty of vacant land on the zoo’s 28-acre site. The master plan suggests exhibits would be shifted to use space more efficiently. The most exciting potential development is a new themed area called “Viking Wilderness.” Scandinavian animals are well adapted to cold climates and the theme would gel with the area’s Scandinavian heritage, says Jacobson.
In Phase 1, a bison exhibit would be built on land south of the existing wolf exhibit. Jacobson said that any bison introduced would be genetically pure bison that are relatively rare. She is keen to point out that conservation is a key part of the zoo’s mission. A nature play area would also be included and a train track around the exhibits.
In Phase 2, a reindeer exhibit would be added, the first addition to the Viking Wilderness area. Tiger and leopard exhibits would be introduced. A new amphitheatre would be built alongside a new splash park that has the potential to double as an ice skating rink.
More changes to the North American area would come in Phase 3. A butterfly building and a new animal-health building would also be added.
Phase 4 would see a complete build out of the Viking wilderness, including walruses, puffins, giant jellyfish, eagles, lynxes, owls and Arctic foxes.
Each of the plan’s four phases is set to last about five years. The plan includes robust attendance goals. The zoo reported attendance of about 125,000 in the fiscal year 2016, which ended March 31. Attendance is projected to be 130,000 a year at the start of the plan with figures reaching as high as 228,000 by the end (a growth of 2.8 percent a year for 20 years).
“The next step would be to get all of our pieces together to launch fundraising for any new exhibits,” says Jacobson. She also couldn’t comment on when the first of the plan’s four phases would begin.
At present zoo staff are focused on smaller-scale improvements such as the new crops exhibit and pollinator garden. These form part of the renovated Children’s Zoo Farm that opened in 2016.
Image courtesy of Red River Zoo.