The Brandywine Zoo is seeking to make a $10 to 13 million transformation, and presented its plan to the public Thursday.
The proposal would rearrange the campus, add several new animal exhibits and upgrade visitor amenities.
The Zoo on the Brandywine River in Wilmington is looking to this plan to turn around a substantial drop in attendance it’s had over the past few years a—28% drop in visitors between 2012 and 2016.
But Zoo director Brint Spencer says it’s not just about visitor experience.
It also takes into account animal welfare—just like the Zoo’s move last year to transfer its tiger to a bigger space at the Bronx Zoo.
“And as we worked on the master plan, we didn’t feel good bringing back an animal that was that large into a facility that was this small. So tigers are not in our master plan right now, but we do have snow leopards.”
The master plan proposes a new animal hospital and quarantine space, new animal exhibits and more educational experiences for guests—including a peek behind the scenes at animal holding areas.
“Zoos in general, and we’re falling right into that, are trying to make themselves more transparent. We don’t rip animals out of the wild. We don’t breed animals for financial gain. We want people to understand what we do and why we do,” he said.”
Spencer says upgraded facilities and new habitats also open the door to acquire more animals.
He says if things go according to the master plan, the zoo could increase its exhibiting animal collection by roughly 50 percent.
New additions could include giant Anteaters, Komodo dragons, a jaguar, sloth bears, a linx, red river hogs, and flamingos.
In addition to transferring its tiger last year, the zoo lost its signature monkey house in 2013 after a tree fell on it.
“The Zoo’s been— Not a lot has happened recently,” said Spencer. “So we need to revitalize ourselves.”
At the open house on Thursday, DNREC and Zoo staff presented the master plan to members of the public.
Diane Angeline, who works for the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, grew up in Wilmington.
“I remember coming as a kid and even a teenager and you would get to the otter habitat … and I always expected to turn the corner and go to the rest of the zoo,” she said. “So I think this feels like they’re able to finally get there.”
Carol Welch, who has volunteered at the Brandywine Zoo for about a decade, supports the master plan’s proposal to move the administrative building from the center of the zoo to the edge, so the zoo has more of a "loop" feeling.
Rick Mulrooney, who lives in Arden, also supports the plan, noting the importance of getting young children engaged in ecology and “shepherding the planet.”
“It’s something we’ve needed for a long time,” he said. “I wish it could be done by the end of the summer.”
The Zoo’s master plan projects some new guest attractions to be completed as soon as 2019, and others to take until 2026.
According to Delaware Zoological Society spokesperson, the Zoo plans to pursue public and private funding, and a funding feasibility study has been commissioned.