The animals are ready.
The gazelles are running about their new digs.
The storks are already testing out the watering hole in the exhibit.
And the African lions are roaming their new enclosure that is about three times larger than the old one.
The inhabitants seem oblivious to the contingent of construction workers scurrying about putting the finishing touches on the new Pride of Africa exhibit set to open at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Akron Zoo.
The nonchalant attitude is a good thing.
Linda Criss, the zoo vice president of communications who also is charged with handling the final touches like where signage is supposed to go, said the animals' indifference is a good thing.
Soon hundreds of visitors will be gawking at them so, Criss said, it is important that they get used to activity outside of the enclosures.
"It's coming together," zoo President Doug Piekarz said. "It looks like it is almost open."
The construction has been going on for months and is part of a $17 million project — funded by a combination of levy funds and private donations — to create the Pride of Africa area and a new Wild Asia exhibit.
It was to open June 1, but Criss said the rainy spring set back construction.
"Anytime it is not raining, it is work, work, work," she said.
The construction includes a new path for the zoo's popular train ride as it will now chug past the grasslands habitat for Speke's gazelles and white storks and the lions.
The only animals still waiting to take up residence are the Boer goats that will be inside a so-called boma that re-creates where the Maasai farmers in Kenya would call home.
The new enclosure for two prides of lions will educate guests about efforts to monitor and protect them in Kenya.
Visitors can climb aboard a Land Rover or wander into a tent to hear those charged with protecting the lions in the wild chat with one another.
There are two observation areas, including one with a tunnel to crawl inside to view the lions nose to nose through thick glass.
The zoo’s male lion, Tamarr, and lioness, Mandisa, will be one pride on exhibit and will share the space with a second pride: a new male lion, Donovan, from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and two lionesses, Kataba and Msinga, from the Philadelphia Zoo.
The prides cannot be in outdoor space at the same time, Criss said, so there will be a schedule of which pride will be on display on any given day.
There is a door that zoo keepers can open to interact with the lions safely behind a metal grate in one of the observation areas.
Criss said this will allow guests to watch as the animal specialists check things like the paws of lions who — if they cooperate — will get on their hind legs and lean against the metal grate.
The area also will be home to the zoo's first water play area where kids can cool off with mist sprayers and learn a bit about water conservation in Kenya.
A lot of research went into the project, Criss said. After listening to guest feedback, the zoo not only included a lot of interactive educational displays but also plenty of benches to rest and new bathrooms for the new African section on top of a hill behind Grizzly Ridge.
"We try to create experiences," she said. "We are creating an experience where you can get up close to the animals and experience where families can come and play."
Once work ends at the Pride of Africa this week, Criss said, attention will shift to the redo of the Tiger Valley space situated near the zoo's carousel.
The Wild Asia area — set to open next year — will transport guests to Southeast Asia jungles and Himalayan forests.
It will boast a larger enclosure for a pair of Sumatran tigers and one for the red pandas. The area also will be home to an exhibit space for some white-cheeked gibbons, the zoo's new primates.
"We are still doing a lot of deconstruction there," she said.
Craig Webb can be reached at email@example.com.