The Seneca Park Zoo Society has completed an $8 million campaign that helped fund new habitats and interactive exhibits, including popular lion, baboon and elephant enclosures.
The society announced Thursday that its A Step Into Africa campaign had ended, exceeding expectations for fundraising and creating a popular attraction at the zoo.
Fundraising for the campaign began in 2005, after Monroe County's construction of a new elephant barn and yard. The goal was to provide a watering hole for the elephants, a baboon exhibit and a lion exhibit, complete with interactive educational features, officials said. The campaign pulled in more than $8 million from 1,143 donors.
"I am proud to say that this well-enjoyed exhibit is finished and fully funded," said David Riedman, past board president and capital campaign chairman. "We have an army of supporters to thank for making that happen. The completion of this exhibit was a collaborative effort between the Zoo Society, its partner, Monroe County, and community members."
The third and final phase of the multiyear project began May 17. The opening of the exhibit drew the highest attendance at the zoo since 1998, bringing more than 428,000 visitors.
Monroe County invested $6.8 million into the project, creating what County Executive Maggie Brooks said is an inspiring exhibit.
"By working together with our not-for-profit partner, the Seneca Park Zoo Society, we were able to realize the complete vision of A Step Into Africa," Brooks said. "With the $8 million raised by the society, combined with Monroe County's public investment of $6.8 million in the overall project, our zoo now has an African exhibit area that is both impressive and inspiring."
The entire zoo has benefited from the project's completion, officials said. Along with greater attendance and membership levels, the zoo increased opportunities for educational programming and received greater exposure for its message of conservation.
The result is an exhibit that has become an example for other zoos, said Rachel Baker August, executive director of the Seneca Park Zoo Society.
"Philanthropic leaders, such as the Riedman Foundation, enthusiastically embraced this zoo improvement, encouraging countless others to give along the way," August said. "These donors gave us the financial means necessary to create a state-of-the-art experience that today other zoos are looking to re-create."
The new exhibit expands the area of the zoo by 50 percent, Riedman noted. It also sets the zoo on a path for further projects with the same level of excellence.
"The design of this exhibit is transformational and sets a bar by which all future improvements will be judged," he said.
The Seneca Park Zoo ranked third on the Rochester Business Journal's most recent list of local cultural attractions, with paid attendance of more than 308,000 in 2011.
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