Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens officials announce the opening of a new habitat for the Zoo’s three jaguars, offering guests the opportunity to see jaguars as never before and marking the momentous completion of the $180 million Master Plan Phase 1 that has transformed the Zoo, placing it at the vanguard of animal care and conservation.
The jaguars’ brand new home, like every other L.A. Zoo Master Plan habitat, is designed for specific needs and natural behavior of the species, incorporating state-of-the-art design and technology to provide superior living spaces for the animals, maximize safety and keeper management and accommodate changes in zoo populations, including births. To celebrate the opening, the Zoo presents a larger-than-life, three-dimensional street painting by celebrated chalk artist Ever Galvez depicting jaguars that provides visitors a one-of-a-kind, interactive photo op available. As an added summer bonus, a special FAMILY FUN FRIDAYS four-pack (two adults and two children) is available now, online only, valid Fridays from June 5 through September 25 (except July 3) for one low price of $54 (a $12 savings), and includes a 10% discount on retail merchandise at any Zoo gift shop on the day of the visit.
The 7,100 square-foot jaguar habitat, built on a hillside on Rainforest of the Americas’ northwest end, features a waterfall and pool in which the animals can swim, deadwood trees on which they can climb, and abundant landscaping through which they can wander, such as tall grasses, shrubs, ficus trees and banana plants. A sophisticated 1,800 square-foot animal holding facility includes six “bedrooms” and “day room” to provide off-exhibit options for the male jaguar, Kaloa, while the male/female pair, Stewie and Johar, mark their home ranges in the main exhibit space and vice versa. This facilitates the jaguars’ natural behavior, as they are solitary creatures except for courting pairs or mothers and babies. The exhibit also offers upgraded Zoo visitor experiences by optimizing viewing, with two glass areas allowing opportunities to see these magnificent animals up-close, and engaging interpretive graphics, all designed to inspire appreciation for preservation of one of the iconic animals of the rainforest environment. Since 1900, jaguars, which are “near threatened,” have disappeared from much of their range due to persecution by livestock ranchers, degradation of habitat, and human hunting of jaguar prey.
According to Los Angeles Zoo Director John Lewis, “This new habitat allows the Zoo to work more intensely with jaguars while sharing with the public this important keystone predator that helps to maintain balance in New World tropical ecosystems.”
Jaguars, the third largest of the cat species and largest in the Americas with the male averaging between 125 and 250 pounds, hold great religious and cultural importance in many cultures of Mexico, Central America, and South America. They once roamed from the southern tip of the latter continent north to the region surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border. Today the largest population of jaguars inhabits Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Jaguars are also found in Mexico, Guatemala, and Argentina, while rare in the rest of Central and South America. Historically, jaguars were found in the southwestern United States, but are now thought to be extinct in that area. Jaguars live in rainforests, swamps, grasslands, scrublands, deserts and lowland semi-deciduous forests.
Since 1998, the Zoo has completed 11 major capital projects, including new habitats for great apes, elephants, seals, reptiles and many others, development of major health and education facilities, and the opening last year of Rainforest of the Americas, home to an extraordinary collection of endangered and exotic mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians living in spaces that replicate their natural environments. These Master Plan projects were funded by capital bonds supported by Los Angeles County voters, money supplied by the City of Los Angeles, and donations raised by the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association from individuals, corporations and foundations.
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens’ Master Plan Phase 1 completions began with the 1998 opening of Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains, followed by the Red Ape Rain Forest for orangutans, which debuted in 2000, then the 2001 opening of Winnick Family Children’s Zoo including the Animal Care Center and Muriel’s Ranch, the first contact yard at the Zoo since the 1980s. A new front entry plaza, with its iconic “LOS ANGELES ZOO” sign visible well beyond Zoo grounds, opened in 2005, as did Sea Life Cliffs, home to harbor seals and gray seals in a 165,000 gallon salt-water exhibit which provides underwater viewing as well as views from above. The dedicated members of the Zoo’s veterinary staff at the Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center, which opened in 2002, care not only for the more than 1,100 animals at the Zoo, but they are also active participants in conservation programs beyond Zoo gates, including a Peninsular Pronghorn Recovery Project and the ongoing California Condor Recovery Plan to save the California condor from extinction. The year 2009 marked the opening of the Children’s Discovery Center, a learning environment for youngsters of all ages, which also houses the Volunteer Resource Center where hundreds of dedicated people gather to donate their time, expertise, and energy to the Zoo. The California Condor Rescue Zone in the CDC allows children to learn about the role the Zoo has played in the triumphant return of this iconic species from the brink of extinction. The Campo Gorilla Reserve, an expansive, multilevel exhibit, opened in 2007 to provide a stimulating environment for gorillas, followed in 2010 by Elephants of Asia, the largest habitat in the history of the Los Angeles Zoo boasting deep bathing pools, sandy hills, varied topography, enrichment opportunities, and a high tech barn capable of caring for elephants of all ages; its size, flexibility and innovation have enabled the L.A. Zoo to inspire new trends in the care and conservation of the species. The Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel, the only one of its kind in Southern California, opened in 2011 featuring sixty-six exceptional hand-crafted figures, many representing endangered animals. The Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles (LAIR), an award-winning, state-of-the art facility housing some 75 species in 50 exhibits, opened in 2012, followed by Rainforest of the Americas in 2014. Most recently, the all-new Angela Collier World of Birds Theater replaced the original building, resulting in amenities that improve training opportunities and bird care.
All photos courtesy of Jamie Pham.