New Flamingo Exhibit Opens at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ

From Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr.:

Essex County opened the Flamingo Exhibit at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Wednesday, August 29 and dedicated the new attraction as the “Drill Family Flamingo Exhibit” in honor of the West Orange family’s long-time relationship with the Zoo, which dates back to the original opening in 1963.

“The Flamingo Exhibit is a dynamic attraction that will captivate the attention of our visitors. Not only can you see the flamingos up close but, if you stand on the second floor of our Savanna Café, you can look right into the exhibit area,” DiVincenzo said. “With their unique appearance and colorful feathers, the flamingos are sure to become a favorite of our visitors,” he added.

“Turtle Back Zoo is more than just your typical zoo. Because of the leadership of County Executive DiVincenzo, it has become a learning center for children and adults that promotes conservation and environmental stewardship,” NJ State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said.

The Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for children and senior citizens, and free for children younger than 2 years. For more information, call 973-731-5800 or visit

“I’m pleased to be here for the opening of another dynamic animal exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo. I’m sure the flamingos will attract even more people here,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “It’s great to be part of the team with County Executive DiVincenzo and create this beautiful exhibit,” Freeholder Janine Bauer said. “Projects such as this don’t happen overnight. They are the result of the ongoing commitment of our County Executive and work he does every day,” Freeholder Carlos Pomares said.

“The Zoological Society is pleased to partner with the County Executive. This is a fantastic exhibit that I don’t think is equaled at any other zoo,” Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins said.

Flamingos are found around the world from the Caribbean and South America to Africa, the Middle East and Europe. They are famous for their bright pink feathers, stilt-like legs and S-shaped neck. Their favorite foods include shrimp, snails, and plantlike water organisms called algae. An average flamingo can weigh about 8 pounds and be about 40 inches tall.

The new exhibit features a pool, nesting island in the middle of the pool and an imitation waterfall. There is a 1,000-square-foot indoor facility to hold the flamingos when they are not on exhibit. Shade structures are provided in the viewing areas for visitors.

“Flamingos are a good addition to Turtle Back because we don’t have many exhibits featuring birds and this will help diversify our animal family,” Zoo Director Michael Kerr said. “Our mission at Turtle Back includes promoting education about and understanding of animals. Because flamingos are found in many parts of the world, we will be able to highlight conservation efforts and cultures from different parts of the globe,” he added.

“I can think of no better family than the Drills to name the exhibit after,” the County Executive said. “They built the original zoo and have stayed involved through the years helping us build more modern exhibits that have transformed Turtle Back into the great educational, family destination it has become,” he noted.

The Drill family was involved with the construction of Turtle Back Zoo when it first opened in 1963. They have continued their relationship with the zoo in recent years, being awarded public bids to build exhibits for the Penguins, Komodo Dragon, Reticulated Python and Monkeys, and the Tropical Currents Aquarium. Their current contract with the zoo called for Drill to demolish the old Penguin Coast Exhibit that they constructed in 2008 and build the new Flamingo Exhibit in its place.

West Orange, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. (center) stands with members of the Drill family after unveiling a plaque at the opening of the Flamingo Exhibit at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo on Wednesday, August 29th. During the opening, the County Executive dedicated the new attraction as the “Drill Family Flamingo Exhibit” in honor of the West Orange family’s long-time relationship with the Zoo, which dates back to the original opening in 1963. (Photo courtesy of Essex County)

To recognize the family, a bronze plaque has been placed at the exhibit. It begins with a quote from popular zookeeper Jack Hanna: “Zoo animals are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild.” It continues with “The Drill Construction Company of West Orange has a legacy of nine decades and three generations of family members. They have built medical facilities, transportation hubs, retail centers and communication towers, and their work can be seen in 30 states, the Bahamas and Greenland. What is most important to this family-owned business is much closer to home, and that’s the work they have done for decades at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. The company has been there from the beginning, building the original Zoo when it opened in 1963 and continuing that relationship with the construction of the Penguin Coast, Komodo Dragon, Reticulated Python and Monkey Exhibits and the Tropical Currents Aquarium. They have returned to their “labor of love” once again, this time developing Turtle Back’s Flamingo Exhibit. We are pleased to count the Drill Family as part of our Turtle Back Zoo Family and name this exhibit in their honor.”

Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has roared back to life from the verge of closure by a previous administration. Attendance reached an all-time high of 907,522 in 2017 and the zoo has operated as a self-sustaining facility with revenue collected exceeding operating expenses for the last ten years. In addition, Turtle Back is accredited by American Humane, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Zoological Association of American, a clear indication that an institution is committed to the highest standards in animal care, ethics, conservation and education. It also has been named the Best Zoo in New Jersey by NJ Monthly magazine four times and received a Certificate of Excellence from three times.

Revitalizing Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo has spearheaded over $75 million in upgrades to Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, which have included developing the African Adventure with four Masai giraffes, lions and hyenas, and South African Penguins; a new Educational Building; the Carousel with 33 figures of endangered animals; the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit with sea lions, sharks and sting rays; the Big Cat Country Exhibit with jaguars and cougars; Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve with white cheeked gibbons apes, Reeves muntjac and white naped cranes; Australian Exhibit that features kangaroos, wallabies, emus and over 500 birds in the Aviary; Reptile and Education Center, open air dining pavilion and playground, Penguin Exhibit, Otter Exhibit, Wolf Exhibit, Alligator Exhibit, North American Animal Exhibit, Black Bear Exhibit, Animal Hospital, Essex Farm Petting Zoo and South American Animal Exhibit; renovating the Food Pavilion for year-round use and making upgrades to the entrance as well as fencing and infrastructure to meet AZA requirements. Funding has been provided through Green Acres grants, existing capital improvement bonds, or donations from the Zoological Society, Essex County Parks Foundation, corporations or private foundations. Corporations that have provided support include Investors Bank, Prudential Financial, Inc., Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, PSE&G, Verizon, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, Coca Cola, Capital One Bank, TD Bank, Aramark, Covanta Energy, Matrix Development Group, the family of Ronald Mount and OxyMagic carpet cleaning.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 23 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Turtle Back Zoo is located in Essex County’s South Mountain Reservation and was opened to the public in 1963.