On Tuesday, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore unveiled a master plan for the next decade, including plans to add new animals and exhibits and improve parking.
The most notable change for the zoo in the coming years is moving more animal exhibits closer to the zoo’s entrance, said Kirby Fowler, the zoo’s president and CEO.
“Today you can arrive at the zoo, you walk in and you see prairie dogs and a snowy owl. But that’s all you see a 15-minute walk from the front gate to the main part of the zoo,” Fowler said. “So our job now is to turn our attention to the front part of the zoo.”
The vision includes a new Gateway building near the front gate, likely with indoor and outdoor habitats for amphibians and reptiles, including possible new additions such as the Gila monster and Asian water monitor, according to the master plan. The goal is to build the building by 2029, according to the plan.
That building could also showcase the zoo’s work with the Panamanian golden frog, Fowler said. The zoo is a leading institution working to reintroduce the frogs to their native habitat.
“A lot of people don’t know we have that critical role,” Fowler said. “Having a Gateway building that reflects our work with reptiles and amphibians is very important.”
Across the road from the new building could be a new exhibit for gibbons, small monkeys known for their long arms to swing from tree to tree. The exhibit is set to feature four islands separated by water and connected by a series of overhead ropes, which the gibbons could use to navigate between them. According to the master plan, the exhibition could be built in 2025.
“Some of these animals were zoo favorites a decade or two ago, like the gibbon — and we want to bring those back,” Fowler said. “Their calling is – in my opinion – beautiful. It’s loud, but they’re fun primates to watch.”
The zoo also hopes to revive the Main Valley, an area next to the park entrance that was closed to guests for 17 years before reopening in 2021, in part as a place to view old animal enclosures.
The zoo plans to preserve some of those old enclosures for historic purposes, as well as add new habitats to the area, including a bird of prey habitat with an emphasis on the Steller’s sea eagle. The old elephant house, which has not housed any animals for more than 20 years, is about to be renovated as an event and education space.
The zoo also hopes to improve guest experiences in the coming years by adding features such as a ropes course or zipline, a project committed to 2026.
Later this year, the zoo will also begin construction to improve and expand guest parking areas, according to the master plan. The master plan described the existing parking lot as “substandard,” adding that “due to potholes and ruts, the surface has become a challenge to walk on, drive on, or push a stroller or wheelchair.”
The zoo has received government funding to implement a new stormwater management system in the parking lot beginning in the spring of 2023, to better manage the water flowing from the property to Jones Falls, according to the master plan. The zoo is still raising money for many of its other endeavors, including some of the new habitats and buildings, Fowler said.
“It’s not as exciting as bringing new species and habitats to the zoo, but we’ve had a lot of complaints about our parking lot,” Fowler said.
The zoo also hopes to make sustainability improvements in the coming years, including adding a greenhouse to grow certain food products on-site, making more compost and reducing energy use for buildings, Fowler said. The zoo has already put in place a “non-idle” policy for vehicles operated by employees, and has partnered with the Compost Crew to compost some of its food waste, Fowler said. The zoo aims to be “zero waste” by 2025.
The zoo’s recently released master plan also includes a number of employee-oriented initiatives. The zoo is currently seeking a Director of Diversity, Equality, Access and Inclusiveness, who would evaluate the zoo’s ability to attract diverse staff and guests. It also evaluates its workers’ compensation, Fowler said.
The master plan also includes the construction of new office space for staff, including a building near the African Journey area.
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“We have workers working in these 20-year-old trailers that are in very bad shape,” Fowler said. “So that’s one of the important projects.”
According to the master plan, some animals, such as the snowy owl and the eagle, will also have new habitats in the coming years.
The zoo’s eagle, which previously suffered neurological injuries, doesn’t fly much, but Fowler said it’s “starting to glide.”
“Let’s see where she goes next, so we want to provide her with a better and bigger living environment,” he said. That could happen next year.
According to the master plan, the zoo’s grizzly bears could also see their habitat expand. A pathway would be added connecting them to additional open-air living space, the plan said. That could happen in 2026.
It’s a careful balance, Fowler said, between improving the livelihoods of the creatures already in the zoo’s care and working to add more animals.
“We have to take care of some of our existing animals, but it’s exciting to think about new species and habitats,” Fowler said.