Nebraska’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium has begun work on an Asian forest exhibit, Asian Highlands. Tigers, leopards and seven newcomer species will be featured in the “wild” like area.

Built at a cost of $20 million, the Asian Highlands will be an eight-acre tropical and deciduous forest. It is taking shape on an hillside that hosted Dinosaurs Alive in 2013.
Ten species will be relocated or introduced as part of Asian Highlands. These include Amur tigers, snow leopards and Indian rhinos already living at the zoo. Newcomers comprise red pandas, sloth bears, white-naped cranes, tufted deer, Père David’s deer and two kinds of goat-antelopes. One of the latter is expected to a headliner of the new area.

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Zoo director and CEO Dennis Pate discusses plans for Asian Highlands with reporters

“Twenty years ago, I didn’t know what a takin was,” says Dennis Pate, the zoo’s CEO and executive director. “They have the nose of a dairy cow, horns of a wildebeest, but they’re really a goat weighing 800 pounds. And they’re blond.”

Asian Highlands and the Yeti

Mimicking the forests of the Himalayan Mountains, boreal forests of northeastern China and grasslands of northern India, Asian Highlands will add an exotic touch to the zoo in Omaha. Visitors will enter through a Himalayan ruins-themed gateway east of the aviary. A winding path will split in two and eventually converge again at the tiger display at the top of the hill. Two streams will run through the exhibit.

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Near the goat-antelopes and snow leopards, a rest area called Yeti Truck will include restrooms and a food truck. Called Yeti Camp, the area’s theme is the mythical Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, a white ape-like creature of Himalayan lore. The exhibit also calls for a children’s forest trail and areas for zookeepers to train tigers, sloth bears, snow leopards, takins and gorals in front of spectators.

Asian Highlands will be funded by the Omaha Zoo Foundation. Including this and 2016’s $73 million African Grasslands project, Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium has dedicated more than $160 million to new exhibits and infrastructure over the past decade. Many are being housed off-display at the zoo’s safari park in Ashland. Already, the zoo has acquired or agreed to acquire 90% of the animals it needs for Asian Highlands.

Most are cold-tolerant and will be on display year-round. If construction stays on schedule, half of the exhibit will be open by summer 2018. The remainder will follow a year later.

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