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By now, Dallas Zoo director Warren Iliff must be able to hum “Born Free” in his sleep, For the last six years, Iliff, along with zoo and city staff memhers, and the Dallas Zoological Society have been up to their noses studying blueprints of the largest zoo renovation project since the zoo opened, its doors in 1888. (When the project is completed, it will more than double the size of the existing zoo.) Covering fifty-five acres, the “Wilds of Africa” will be the first zoo exhibit in the world to include every major habitat of an entire continent-and not a single beast will live in a cage. “The Wilds of Africa is built for their world, not ours,” says Iliff. “We were just fortunate to have land available for us to use that would accommodate their various lifestyles and allow them to roam free.” The acreage, located directly across the street from the current Dallas Zoo, was acquired from the city in 1982 and is slowly being transformed into an African paradise, neat-ly divided into the six habitats of that continent-mountain, woodland, river/swamp, desert, bush, and forest. Animals native to each habitat will be viewed, by visitors either by monorail or on foot.

Probably one of the biggest coups for the zoo will be the creation of the almost two-acre gorilla habitat, where visitors will be able to study the zoo’s ten gorillas in several different ways. Camouflaged viewing blinds along the path to the gorilla field research station will allow the animals to be observed through mounted binoculars. A field observer will be ready to interpret the gorillas’ activities and to answer questions. The station will also be equipped, with technological devices used, in actual field research, such as a sound. receiver to pick up gorilla noises, video cameras, and a tracking device to show the daily movements of each animal. From the research station, visitors will move to the heart of the gorilla habitat, an underground bunker that will offer a close-up view of the apes without interrupting their normal activities.

Additional phases of the plan will include land for a major savannah exhibit to include elephants, giraffes, rhinos, lions, and cheetahs, construction of a new education/administration complex, an entertainment plaza to accommedate several thousand zoo-goers, a tropical rain forest, restaurant, hospital, and breeding area. Last on the list will he the replacement of all existing buildings and exhibits in the current Dallas Zoo.

Although the Wilds of Africa project has been delayed, until the spring of 1989 (the original date was scheduled for the fall of 1987), Iliff says the setbacks have been a blessing. “The delay gives us additional time to hire and train employees, will give the foliage and grazing land time to take hold, and will give the animals more time to become better acclimated to their new surroundings.

“On any timetable,” says Iliff, “our whole focus of this project is to save animals and preserve their way of life in order to return them to the wilds someday.”

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