SALISBURY — Construction is slated to begin soon on an Australian exhibit at the Salisbury Zoo, ushering in a shift at the attraction from its decades-long concentration on creatures from the Americas.
The city’s Public Works staff members have begun soliciting bids for the $200,000 project in the wake of the City Council’s formal approval of the work at its meeting Monday. Crews will begin construction as soon as the contracts are worked out, said Amanda Pollack, deputy Public Works director.
The first phase of the exhibit could open as early as the end of November, she said. At first, it will house a pair of Bennett wallabies, a relative of the kangaroo. The wallabies are being acquired from Trevor Zoo in Millbrook, N.Y.
The collection is expected to grow to five wallabies, with flightless birds known as emus joining them in late 2013. The last phase, scheduled for 2015, will incorporate the zoo’s first walk-through aviary, highlighting Australian birds like the Cape Barren goose and kookaburras.
The aviary is not included in the $200,000 price tag.
The seeds for the new exhibit were planted with the creation of the 2006 zoo master plan, which generated interest in an Australia exhibit, said Zoo Director Joel Hamilton. The 14-acre campus east of downtown Salisbury seemed like a good fit for the continent’s generally smaller creatures.
“We just don’t have the space to add giraffes and elephants and all the animals from Africa that people like to see,” Hamilton said.
Years ago, the zoo displayed animals from the other side of the world, including at one time a brush-tailed rock wallaby. But the focus since around the 1970s has been on creatures from North, Central and South America.
Called “Discover Australia,” the exhibit is to occupy an unused spot of the zoo nestled between the east entrance and the restroom building. Future phases will require the existing bobcat area to be relocated elsewhere in the zoo.
For now, the majority of the 5,000-square-foot site is home to freshly tilled dirt and a “Please Pardon Our Dust” sign.
Plans call for a 6-foot-tall fence to corral the wallabies; a second, shorter fence between visitors and the exhibit; plantings to help create an Australian ambiance; and viewing areas framed by rustic eucalyptus poles.
With temperatures hovering around 60 degrees Tuesday afternoon and a light mist falling, the zoo was nearly devoid of visitors. Recent transplants from Texas, Carol and Bryan Thurman, were making their first trip.
“I guess I thought it’d be smaller,” Carol Thurman said. “They have a lot here for being free.”
Though slightly disappointed to hear that the new exhibit wouldn’t include koalas, she said she is looking forward to seeing even more animals at the zoo.