Next stop at Roger Williams Park Zoo — The Amazon

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — After voters approved bond money in 2014 for improvements to Roger Williams Park Zoo, officials started putting together a 20-year master plan outlining what the zoo could look like one day.

Rhode Islanders will get their first glimpse of the changes this summer, according to a zoo spokeswoman, when the Faces of the Rainforest exhibit opens.

The multi-level building promises a “journey to the depths of the Amazon,” according to a promotional video for the zoo. It will include waterfalls and a waterslide for giant river otters and an aviary where birds fly free. Animals on exhibit will include monkeys, piranhas, an anaconda, tamanduas, a type of anteater known as “stinkers of the forest,” cue bill toucans and sloths.

But the plants and animals in the exhibit will encompass only one facet of Faces of the Rainforest, according to Shareen Knowlton, the zoo’s education director.

“Many might think, quite logically, that the title suggests the exhibit will focus, in addition to the animals, on the indigenous people who live in the rain forest,” Knowlton said in a statement. “However, at its core, the exhibit emphasizes that regardless of where we live, we are all part of the rain forest.”

The exhibit will help visitors appreciate how choices they make at grocery stores in Rhode Island have direct influences on the rain forest, Knowlton said. Those decisions, she said, are what make zoo-goers themselves faces of the rain forest.

The rain forest building, whose exact opening date has not been announced, will be in a corner of the zoo across from the farmyard exhibit, according to zoo spokeswoman Diane Nahabedian. The building features a three-story glass atrium at its center, with two-story wings on either side.

The 20-year master plan that includes Faces of the Rainforest was unveiled in 2015, following the $53-million Clean Water, Open Spaces and Healthy Communities bond that voters approved, 71 percent to 29 percent, in 2014. That included $9 million for the rain forest building, $5 million for a new education center and $1 million for a reptile building at the zoo. The balance of the bond money was dedicated to clean-water, flood-prevention, recreation, farmland-acquisition and other projects.

The master plan includes three $25-million phases that will take five to seven years each to complete. The first phase includes several smaller projects in addition to the rain forest building. The second phase includes the education center and changes near the zoo’s entrance, as well as improvements to the zoo’s North American exhibits.

The zoo, which opened in 1872, making it the third oldest in the country, is owned by the City of Providence and is run by the Rhode Island Zoological Society.

What’s new at the zoo? The following projects are planned in the next few years:

  • Commissary - Start building in July, opening in early 2019
    • This building will provide space for zookeepers to store and prepare food for the animals. In addition to meats and fresh fruits and vegetables that could be found in any grocery store, it will also include crickets and other things not suited to the human palate in American.
  • Gazebo - Start building in 2019, opening in 2020
    • A large gazebo on the water of one of the zoo’s ponds will serve as an event pavilion. With a capacity of 250 guests, it will be available for meetings, birthday parties, weddings, corporate events and similar functions as well as zoo programs.
  • Education center - Start building in mid 2019, opening in late 2020
    • Near the zoo’s entrance, it will replace an education center that’s slated to become a reptile house, offering more space for classrooms.
  • Reptile house - Start building in 2020, opening not yet scheduled
    • Will provide space to exhibit reptiles.
  • Penguin, sea lion, shore bird exhibit - Design process to begin in 2022
    • A collection of aquatic exhibits near the zoo's entrance will include penguins, sea lions and shore birds. 
  • Main entrance - Design process to begin in 2022
    • ​A reconfigured entrance will include additional parking and an increased capacity for processing people entering the zoo. It will also include a gift shop, replacing one deep in the zoo, and membership services.

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Date: 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tagline: 

Faces of the Rainforest exhibit opens this summer as big changes continue at the nation’s third oldest zoo.