The North Carolina Zoo turns 40
By Marilyn Jones
From the very beginning, it was a conscious effort to make the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro a shining example of what an animal sanctuary should be. This year the zoo is celebrating its 40th year of achieving that goal.
“They wanted to build the very best,” says Owen George whose father Alvis George served as the Architect and Project Coordinator for the original N.C. Zoo design project.
Alvis traveled with zoo director William Hoff and five other professionals on a four-week study trip to Africa and to several well-known European zoos during October and November 1973.
“I remember my dad saying they visited zoos not so much to see what worked, but to see what didn’t,” recalls Owen.
The men returned to North Carolina with a vision of creating a natural habitat zoo that would surpass any other in existence. For Alvis, it was the beginning of a creative collaboration with the zoo that would last for 30 years until his death in 2001.
Visiting the zoo
First, there’s its size: 2,000 acres (one of the world’s largest) with more than 500 acres developed into two continents — North America and Africa. Joined by a tram, the two continents feature 1,600 animals.
Two western lowland gorillas and their toddlers, born at the zoo, are the stars of Africa as the two little boys romp and wrestle on the soft green grass. Other primates include baboons and chimpanzees. Watani Grasslands is home to rhinos, antelope, gazelles, waterbucks and ostriches. Nearby at the Forest Edge you may get the opportunity to feed a giraffe.
The North American half of the zoo highlights animals from the Arctic — a polar bear, Arctic fox and puffins — to the prairie, cypress swamp and marsh. Playful otters, three cougar cubs rescued from the wild, grizzly bears, black bears and elk are some of the other animals here. In some of the featured areas, the land is so expansive it’s hard to remember you’re in a zoo.
Add special attractions such as “Bugs: An Epic Adventure” and “Rio: The 4-D Experience” (through October), and you’ve got a memorable experience.
When you go:
There are picnic areas near Akiba Market (Africa) and North American Plaza including Solar Pointe, where the solar energy collected is used by Randolph EMC which supplies the zoo’s electricity.
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