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Akron Zoo Unveils 'Wild Asia' This Weekend

White-cheeked gibbons
Ketan Bhatia
/
WKSU
The new white-cheeked gibbons at the Akron Zoo, with Milo (left) and Parker (right), are a matched pair who the zoo hopes will mate in the future.

The Akron Zoo will unveil its new "Wild Asia" exhibit this weekend, the culmination of seven years of work and a $17 million investment.

Spokeswoman Elena Bell says the project offers different climate zones for some animals that are used to much different temperatures.

"We'll have a new home for our Sumatran Tigers and Red Pandas. If guests can remember, until 2018 we had a tiger and a Red Panda here so they'll be making their triumphant return. And then we're also going to be introducing a new primate species, the White-Cheeked Gibbon," Bell said.

"The gibbons are a warm species. They're native to Thailand, Vietnam and that area. They can't go outside if it's colder than 50 degrees. So what we did was we built what we called the 'day room': Guests can still see them, but they're inside, enjoying the warm heat. And then when it's warm outside, they can come out, and they have a beautiful outdoor habitat as well.

"Our red pandas are native to the Himalayan mountains, so they love the cold. They love the snow, so we made some adaptations in their habitat with a cave that we can actually air condition."

Bell adds that the gibbons are on the critically endangered list. The ones in Akron are a bonded pair, and zoo officials hope they'll be encouraged to mate in the future.

One of the themes of the exhibit is habitat destruction: The tigers and gibbons are being threatened by the need to build palm oil plantations. The zoo will be encouraging visitors to download an app that shows whether palm oil comes from a sustainable source, or a plantation.

“And you can scan barcodes, search products, and it tells you, ‘Is this good palm oil, [or] is this bad palm oil?’ And you would be shocked; it is in pop, It is in food. It is in soap — everything,” Bell said.

Wild Asia takes the place of Tiger Valley, which was built in the 1990s and was one of the oldest areas in the zoo.

Planning for Wild Asia and its companion, Pride of Africa, began in 2014. The African area opened in 2019.