Jul 26

Bringing Asia to Nebraska

“Moving a rhino is kind of a big deal,” says Dan Cassidy, general curator of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Thankfully, the zoo already has two Indian rhinos, a male and a female, so instead of having to haul them across states or, worse, continents, the zoo will just have to move them from their current digs to their splendid new home in the Asian Highlands exhibition.

Rhinos aren’t the only current zoo residents that will be getting an upgrade when the $20 million, eight-acre Asian Highlands opens in phases between summer 2018 and 2019. Last year’s litter of three Amur tigers, Aurora, Finn and Titan (whose birth was one of only two successful occurrences out of 20 breeding recommendations nationwide), along with their parents, Isabella and Sasha, and our other Amurs will be making the move, as will the snow leopards: a mother, father and the first cub to have been born at the zoo in more than a decade.

The zoo has also been acquiring several new animals for the Asian Highlands exhibition who are currently residing at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, including three takins, which are 800-pound goat-antelope hybrids with the face of cows, native to the Eastern Himalayas; gorals, a smaller type of goat-antelope; and Père David’s deer, which are elk-like and extinct in the wild.

“We’ve been trying to get as many animals as possible in ahead of time, so we can begin to work with them and won’t have to worry about delays,” says Cassidy, noting that the red pandas, white-naped cranes and sloth bears are still in the acquisition process.

The Asian Highlands exhibit will be located just north of the Simmons Aviary (in the space occupied by the temporary Dinosaurs Alive! exhibition a few years ago), and accessed via a replica of an upper Himalayan temple ruin. There will also be an interactive Kid’s Discovery Trail, and Yeti Camp which will have guest services (i.e. restrooms, snack bar, etc.).

“We saved as many of the big old oak trees as we could to give it that high shade of the boreal forests in Asia,” Cassidy says. “We’re also going to use as much bamboo in the landscape as we can.”

Since many of the animals are native to colder climates, Cassidy says that the Asian Highlands will join the Lied Jungle, the Desert Dome and the Scott Aquarium as a four-season attraction. “We picked many of the animals for that reason," he says. "We don't put giraffes out when it's cold, but for the snow leopards, the takin and the amur tiger -- the colder the better!”

Something tells us they’ll be right at home in a Nebraska winter.

For more information about supporting the Asian Highlands expansion and other zoo initiatives, please visit our website, or call 402-738-2073.