The Baton Rouge Zoo, celebrating over 50 years of culture, conservation, entertainment and education, is back open to the public after shutting down due to COVID, and they’re in the midst of a master redevelopment plan that will redesign and expand the zoo.
The Zoo is owned and operated by BREC (Recreation and Park Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge) that connects people to parks and nature, featuring 180 parks, a state-of-the-art observatory, swamp nature center, performing arts theatre, botanical garden, arboretum, water park and golf courses.
The Baton Rouge Zoo has grown to become the #1 year-round family attraction in Baton Rouge with more than a quarter million guests each year.
We were excited to hear about the Zoo’s redevelopment plan, so we reached out and interviewed Corey Wilson, BREC Superintendent, to learn about some of the amazing components of the Zoo:
- Baton Rouge Zoo Redevelopment
- Animals Reaching Kids (ARK)
- Virtual Programs
- Benefits of Being Outdoors
Baton Rouge Zoo Redevelopment
“We’re looking forward to expanding our opportunities for kids here both locally as well as regionally across the area. We conducted a master plan on what a sort of state-of-the-art 21st century zoo would look like. That plan was approved by our board and we are now in the process of doing the first phase of that plan,” said Wilson.
The plan will include roughly 35 million dollars in improvements at the Zoo, including a new entrance building, giraffe exhibit, underwater hippo exhibit and addressing several outdated and old infrastructure items.
“The Zoo is in north Baton Rouge, historically an area that’s been disinvested in, so we’re excited about the potential economic development opportunities that may result from our investment into the Zoo,” said Wilson.
Animals Reaching Kids (ARK)
In addition to their in-house educational programs, the Zoo offers active outreach programs.
“One of the programs we have right now that we’re pretty excited about is Project ARK, Animals Reaching Kids. What we’ve noticed over the recent years with some of the funding cuts in schools, that schools were unable to come out to the Zoo. So we started bringing the Zoo to a lot of schools around our area in terms of a lot of our ambassador animals. And we talk with kids about not only animals but science as well,” said Wilson.
Project ARK services schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, focusing on STEM education with hands-on animal encounters with education animal ambassadors and interactive programming.
Animals Reaching Kids is delivered through the Zoomobile program, available during the months of December through February, August and September for both schools and non-school affiliated groups.
Since many schools are not allowing outside groups to come into the schools right now during the pandemic, the Zoo found a way to still bring the fun and education to the classroom.
They’ve created six educational videos that cover the state science curriculum and show the same programs as they would if they were able to go to the schools in person. You can also download a variety of corresponding curriculum materials and activities.
Benefits of Being Outdoors
“What we’ve learned since we’ve reopened and even really since the pandemic has hit is that outdoor activity is appreciated on a much higher level than it ever was before. So we’re very excited in terms of what the new normal may be.
If that’s more people using our facilities, we welcome that because we know the benefits of using our facilities not only from a physical aspect, but one of the main things we stressed throughout the pandemic was the mental benefits of getting outside, getting sun, walking through the woods or just walking in general. We truly believe in the benefits that our park system provides,” Wilson said.
The Baton Rouge Zoo admissions gate is open from 9:30am to 4pm daily, and the Zoo grounds closes at 5pm. Helpful information is provided on the Zoo’s website to keep guests, staff and animals safe during the pandemic.
The Baton Rouge Zoo is extremely active in conservation programs and participates with other zoos around the world in nearly 30 international Species Survival Plans for critically endangered species.
The Zoo works closely with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, conducting research on several species. Behavioral studies are also conducted through other departments at LSU as well as colleges throughout the region.