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CONTACT: Rod Hackney FOR RELEASE: May 16, 2000 Telephone: 336-879-7204
N.C. Zoo's R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary Reopens May 26

ASHEBORO-One of the North Carolina Zoo's most popular attractions will reopen to the public on Friday, May 26.

The R.J. Reynolds Forest will reopen at 9:30 a.m. on May 26 after 18 months of repairs and renovations. The 18,000-square-foot Aviary with its distinctive, Plexiglas dome roof, first opened in August 1982, presenting a lush rain forest complete with rainbow-colored exotic birds and hundreds of tropical plants. The building soon helped the zoo gain a national reputation for breeding rare and endangered birds.

In July 1987, the Aviary recorded the first American hatching of an African pied barbet. That milestone was followed in June 1988 with another U.S.-first-hatching, this time an Asian red-faced liocichla. The Aviary's list of notable births would later also include the second U.S. hatchings of the African grey-headed kingfisher and the African spoonbill. These achievements all stood as testaments to the natural environment provided for the birds by the exhibit as well as to the hard work and expertise of the Aviary staff.

One of the 10 Best

Numerous surveys conducted by the zoo over the years confirmed the Aviary's popularity in the eyes of visitors. But the building's aesthetic appeal gained national attention in April 1990, when USA Today published an article by renowned zoo exhibit designer John Coe in which he named it one of the 10 best natural habitat exhibits in American zoos.

Still, the wear and tear of time, not to mention the traffic of millions of visitors over the years, will take its toll on even the best of zoo exhibits. So in December of 1998, the Aviary was closed for some $850,000 in much-needed repairs and improvements.

Replacement of the 19-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was perhaps the most critical need. Wiring, mechanical systems and even air ducts had become rusty from the constant high humidity necessary for the tropical plant collection. Tunnels, which suppy cool, moist air, had become difficult to keep clean and new floors had to be installed for safer footing.

Workers have installed new waterproof membranes and drains in many of the Aviary's exhibit areas, including large planters located in the building's upper level, which had begun to leak because of root damage. Another change has involved the installation of two high-tech chillers for temperature control and for better control of the humidity.

Noticeable Changes

Visitors familiar with the Aviary may readily notice that some of the exhibit's older and larger plants and trees have been replaced with younger ones, while alterations have also been made to the central pool and turtle exhibit. Metal handrails and glass overlook barriers have been replaced with recycled wood in many areas. Many species on the Aviary's original plant list have been retained, but the Zoo Horticulture staff has installed a significant number of new species to better represent a tropical rain forest. The number of plants has been increased to more than 3000 specimens representing over 300 species-perhaps the largest tropical plant collection under roof in North Carolina. Among the new trees are the West Indian mahogany, ear fruit, cannonball, rain tree, stilt root palm and betel palm. New undergrowth plants added to the building include the sapodilla (the original base for chewing gum) and sapote(a Caribbean fruit) along with more flowering plants such as gingers and heliconias.

Aviary patrons will also recognize many of the birds that will be returning to the glass dome, including such favorites as the scarlet ibis, Victoria crowned pigeon, fairy bluebird, ringed teal, sun bittern and black-naped fruit dove. A $650,000 avian holding and propagation facility, funded in part by gifts to the N.C. Zoological Society, provided housing for much of the Aviary's bird collection while the renovations were under way. As originally planned, that 10,000-square-foot facility (about half of which is exterior flight cages) will now be dedicated solely to the off-exhibit care and breeding of birds.

New Bird Species

And while the large white African spoonbill, which is not a true tropical forest species, will no longer be in the Aviary's collection, at least nine species never before exhibited at the Zoo have been added. These include the green junglefowl, nicobar pigeon, blue-crowned hanging parrot, Indian whistling duck, white-winged wood duck, pied imperial pigeon, blue-streaked lory and double-toothed barbet.

Due to the difficulty of introducing new birds to a large, mostly glass exhibit, the number of birds on exhibit opening day will be relatively low. Over the ensuing year however, the collection will be built up to around 100 birds.

The zoo is located on Zoo Parkway (N.C. 159) six miles southeast of Asheboro of U.S. 64 and U.S. 220. Operating hours April through October are 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children 2-12 and senior citizens. Free admission is one benefit of membership in the N.C. Zoological Society.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Bill Holman, Secretary.

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