The Akron Zoo's campaign to raise $6 million for two new wildlife areas has received a significant boost.

The zoo announced Wednesday that an anonymous donor has stepped forward to donate $1.5 million — the largest single donation in its history — for the construction of the Pride of Africa and Wild Asia wildlife areas.

The so-called ROAR campaign is now at about 80 percent of its goal.

Doug Piekarz, president and CEO at the Akron Zoo, said the support from the community for the latest expansion effort has been overwhelming.

“This donation is an extremely big deal," he said. "This person believes in our mission and loves the Akron Zoo."

Construction is already underway on both of the new wildlife areas.

Pride of Africa is slated to open June 1 and will be home to a pride of lions, along with a grasslands habitat for Speke's gazelles and white storks, and exhibit space for goats. The zoo's existing train ride is being expanded to go around the new area and offer a different view of the animal habitats.

The new African section covers just over three acres on top of a hill behind Grizzly Ridge and is partially on land the zoo acquired from the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority.

Zoo spokeswoman Elena Bell said construction is still going strong to get it ready for its summer opening. They hope to begin work on theming the area in April.

Piekarz said the goal of the Pride of Africa space is to immerse visitors in an African village and allow them to not only learn about the animals that will call the space home, but also about efforts to conserve the species. It will include a themed children's play area.

Once Pride of Africa is complete, Bell said, construction workers will shift their full attention to the neighboring Wild Asia that will open next summer. It will include new habitats for Sumatran tigers, two red pandas and new-to-the-zoo, white-cheeked gibbons.

The Asia area is taking over the zoo's former Tiger Valley section behind the carousel, where the existing exhibits have been razed to make room for the redo.

“Our donor is someone who wants to make a transformational contribution, to the zoo and the ROAR campaign, that will also inspire others in our community to come forward and support the zoo,” said Pam Holtz, vice president and chief development officer.

The zoo's winter hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 and parking is $3. For more, visit www.akronzoo.org.

 

Craig Webb can be reached at 330-996-3547 or cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com.