If the betta fish in your dorm room and “Animal Planet” on Hulu aren’t close enough encounters for you, look no further than Sunset Zoo’s newest exhibit, Expedition Asia. The grand opening Saturday, April 9 will feature performances, crafts and animal feedings, with many student organizations making special appearances.
Grand opening festivities begin at 9:30 a.m. Visitors can participate in crafts with the Asian American Student Union, visit “Wonder Spots” to learn more about the animals and feed tortoises in celebration of the new exhibit.
Special guest Joel Sartore, author and photographer for National Geographic, is attending to help with the ribbon-cutting and will have signed publications available for purchase in the gift shop. Performances from the KSU Tatsumaki Yosakoi Dance Group and the DMNLV Lion Dancers will also take place at the opening.
Melissa Kirkwood, marketing and development officer for the Sunset Zoo, anticipates an involved day for visitors.
“Other than a day full of fun, [the grand opening] will be really engaging for the public,” Kirkwood said.
The true highlight for guests and members, however, will be exploring the newly-built and long-awaited animal habitats within Expedition Asia. Kirkwood expressed her excitement for the public to get a first look at the animals.
“Expedition Asia will be three new exhibits that will highlight three endangered species, which are the Amur leopard, the sloth bear and the Malayan tiger,” Kirkwood said. “I think families and kids are just really going to fall in love with Expedition Asia.”
Winding pathways and up-close encounters help visitors feel immersed in each animal’s habitat. The exhibit is a highly-anticipated project that the Sunset Zoo has been looking forward to unveiling for quite some time.
“These are three permanent exhibits,” Kirkwood said. “We have spent almost two years building them and the project in and of itself is a 4.3 million dollar project.”
Families and children aren’t the only ones eagerly awaiting Expedition Asia. Many students are looking forward to the grand opening as well. Harli Lowmaster, junior in elementary education, plans on paying the exhibit a visit.
“I’m so excited, like genuinely,” Lowmaster said. “I think this will be an amazing upgrade to a small town zoo and will bring in a lot of people.”
Some students, like Lowmaster, enjoy swinging their way to the zoo regularly.
“I think it’s just a fun experience with friends,” Lowmaster said. “Everyone should do it at least once, just to check it off the Manhattan bucket list and to see cool animals.”
Expedition Asia is unlike anything the Sunset Zoo has implemented since its inception in 1933 and is expected to set a course for the coming years.
“This is the newest and largest expansion effort that the zoo’s ever undertaken,” Kirkwood said. “It will be creating new homes for these animals but also a whole new zoo experience for the visitor.”
Not only is this project setting a precedent for future undertakings at the Sunset Zoo, but it is also expected to undergo changes of its own. Kirkwood anticipates that new furry friends will join the existing inhabitants.
“Each one of these species will be recommended to be bred in the future,” Kirkwood said. “We will eventually have a male and a female of each one of these species that will be able to breed. Then we will have babies of these highly endangered animals.”
Feed your fish, turn off Hulu and prepare for a wild time at Expedition Asia and the grand opening festivities beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 9.