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years of Improvement


Celebrating 30 years of building a bigger, better Tulsa Zoo through WALTZ on the Wild Side. Since 1990, WALTZ has contributed to 17 projects. In celebra�on of the 30th anniversary of WALTZ on the Wild Side, we are taking a look back at each project. It’s the combined efforts of patrons, restaurants, commi�ee members and volunteers that make this event a success. Thank you for your con�nued support and love for Tulsa Zoo.

the history of waltz projects through icons
















1. Chimpanzee Connec�on 2. Elephant Encounter 3. Aldabra Tortoise Exhibit 4. Shark Aquarium 5. Jaguar Exhibit 6. Polar Bear Exhibit 7. Cheetah Exhibit 8. Children’s Zoo 9. Siamang Island 10. Southwest Desert 11. African Penguin exhibit 12. Maasai Village 13. Sea Lion Exhibit 14. Elephant Demonstra�on Yard 15. Capital Campaign Projects



C H I M PAN ZE E CONNEC TION Project Completed 1991

Upon visiting Tulsa Zoo in 1992 after the completion of Chimpanzee Connection, famed conservationist and researcher Jane Goodall commented it was one of the best Chimpanzee exhibits she had seen. Beginning in 1990 for $50 a person, the third Friday in June forever changed the direc�on of fundraising at the Tulsa Zoo. The first annual WALTZ (We All Love Tulsa Zoo) on the Wild Side helped fund the construc�on of the Chimpanzee Connec�on. This new facility was included in the zoos first capital campaign “Zoo Power” which helped fund four projects: Chimpanzee Connec�on, Elephant Encounter Museum, Sea Lion Train Sta�on and enhancements at the Children’s Zoo. Chimpanzee Connec�on changed the landscape of Chimp Island by adding indoor viewing for the first �me. In addi�on to indoor guest viewing through 1.25 inch glass, this new naturally lit habitat offered high climbing and foraging opportuni�es for the chimps. This facility exemplified the desire of Tulsa Zoo Friends to build serviceable, high quality structures at the Tulsa Zoo. No compromise was allowed in its design or construc�on. Those values would move forward in the decade of WALTZ projects to come.


E L E P HAN T ENCOUNTER Project Completed 1995

Oklahoma Museums Association 1995 “Outstanding Interpretive Exhibit” Award WALTZ 1991 boosted the zoo’s first capital campaign, “Zoo Power”, by aiming it’s funds at the second major project, Elephant Encounter. This new facility moved the Asian elephants from a 1957 moated yard, to a state-of-the art 2-1/2 acre exhibit. While the majority of funding for this new elephant center came from the 1987 bond issue passed by taxpayers, the museum component “Elephant Encounter” was funded by WALTZ. The Elephant Encounter Museum was 3,200 square feet and provided a complete picture of the life and history of elephants. The museum was filled with interac�ve exhibits for visitors to learn about elephant anatomy, communica�on, history, and their rela�onship with humans over �me. Exhibits like the robo�c trunk and the life-size woolly mammoth recrea�on immersed guests into the history and importance of elephants.


A LDA BRA TORTOISE EXHIBIT Project Completed 1993

American Institute of Architects 1993 State Design Award Opening in 1993, the Aldabra Tortoise exhibit provided year-round indoor and outdoor habitats for the second largest tortoise species on the planet. With spacious yards, guests enjoyed up close viewing of these massive rep�les. The facility opened doors to a new milestone for conserva�on at the Tulsa Zoo. Since 1999, over 160 Aldabra tortoises have hatched at the zoo. Tulsa Zoo is among a handful of facili�es to have had success breeding this endangered animal more than once.


S H ARK AQUA RIUM Project Completed 1994

Originally built in 1978, the North American Living Museum, now WildLIFE Trek, featured four buildings represen�ng regions of North America. This award-winning complex combined living animals and plants with natural history exhibits and educa�onal interpre�ves. This model of exhibitory was the first of it’s kind combining all components of a modern zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, and natural history museum into one educa�onal facility. Inside the Southern Lowlands building, now Life in the Water, a modest gi�shop served as the primary store for the zoo un�l the comple�on of our current gi� shop in 1993. Across from the old gi� shop was the original 10,000 coral reef fish tank. The space was empty and in need of an upgrade, WALTZ 1993 focused on re-imagining the Southern Lowlands experience. Two years later, “Beyond the Reef” elevated the guest experience with the addi�on of brown sharks, nurse sharks, moray eels, exo�c fish, and a 20,000 gallon tank. U�lizing the exis�ng coral reef tank, new underwater exhibits were created and wrapped the viewing space into a panorama of aquariums.


JAGUAR E XHIBIT Project Completed 1997

“Walking through the new Tropical American Rain Forest at the Tulsa Zoo is one of the most dramatic experiences to be found in Tulsa. The Rain Forest is the single largest project the Tulsa Park and Recreation Department has undertaken and the results have been well worth the time, effort, and cost. - Mayor M. Susan Savage (36th Tulsa Mayor 1992-2002) In it’s fi�h year, WALTZ on the Wild Side was voted best fundraiser by Tulsa People Magazine. A�endance climbed and the vision for the next project focused on a jaguar exhibit for the Tropical American Rainforest. The City of Tulsa, through the 1991 sales tax, generated the basic funds for the new exhibit, but the addi�onal enhancements were paid through WALTZ 1994. Adding 2,000 square feet to the 13,000 square foot Tropical Rainforest, the Jaguar Exhibit was originally fashioned with a large mural backdrop and rockwork modeled a�er an ancient Mayan Site, called Tikal, in Guatemala. Encompassing two pools, lifelike concrete heated trees and a large stela as the focal point of the exhibit. A stela is a large slab of stone which may depict a single event or chronicle a king’s life. This large stone slab is called Dancing With The Kings. It is an exact replica of a piece discovered in Guatemala. The central figure is thought to be the king of the village of Machaquila leading a fes�val dance.


P O L AR BE AR EXHIBIT RENOVATI ON Project Completed 1996

WALTZ 1995 would combine with funds raised in the “Build the Bear Necessi�es” PolarCare campaign to expand and improve the polar bear exhibit. The exhibit was designed in 1978 to replicate the ice polar bears traveled in the Arc�c Tundra, however the simple white concrete design needed a face li�. The $635,000 renova�on more than doubled the space for the bears. The new rockwork created a more natural experience with diving rocks, an enlarged pool and a separate grass yard next door. A�er the passing of our last polar bear, Kavek, in 2006. The zoo determined the exhibit would no longer house polar bears. In the spring of 2013, the en�re North American Living Museum re-opened as the Robert J. Lafortune WildLIFE Trek complex. This $5.3 million renova�on included repurposing the exhibit for grizzly bears. This modified exhibit now features an interac�ve keeper chat area, training wall and the former diving pool was lowered into a wading pool.


C H E ETAH E X HIBIT Project Completed 1997

In 1996, WALTZ directed it’s a�en�on to Africa with the inten�on of bringing cheetahs to the zoo. The exhibit space included a new observa�on deck overlooking a panorama of Africa, as well as new cheetah, meerkat and antelope exhibits. The 21,000 square foot cheetah exhibit featured vast space and a rocky outcropping similar to those found on the Savannas of Africa, called Kopjes. Three young cheetah brothers, Kuma, Luther and Flash, were the first inhabitants of the exhibit. All male groups called coali�ons are not unusual in the wild, but li�le was known about their social structure and habits. As part of an ongoing project conducted by the Associa�on of Zoos & Aquariums, the Tulsa Zoo began to study and report the interac�ons of the group. Upon the passing of the final brother Kuma in 2012, the habitat welcomed three female African painted dogs. Currently, Tulsa Zoo is planning many new exhibits for our Africa sec�on, including a new African painted dog exhibit. This exhibit will expand the zoo’s ability for breeding this endangered species. The expanded African sec�on of the zoo will cost $28 million and encompass 6 acres that will transport guests to an authen�c backpacking trip through modern-day Africa.


C H I L DREN ’S ZOO RENOVATIO N Project Completed 1998

WALTZ 1997 aimed at giving the Children’s Zoo a faceli�. The Children’s Zoo was originally constructed in 1977. This area featured pigs, sheep and goats, a nocturnal animal building, an animal nursery, prairie dog village, river o�er pool, llama and wallaby yards, as well as an amphitheater. These upgraded facili�es improved the efficiency of the exhibit and reimagined the overall experience of the area. The biggest experience upgrade was the contact yard. Children and adults could now enter a fenced area for an up-close experience with goats and sheep. The llama and Sicilian donkeys received new yards, and the river o�er habitat expanded downstream underneath the visitor bridge. Other new addi�ons included restrooms, service buildings, and improvements to the original amphitheater which has since been closed.


S I A MAN G ISLA ND Project Completed 1999

“We were thrilled to be involved in the opening of the new Siamang Island exhibit. This living space mirrors the natural habitat in Asia of these primates. It was exciting to be a part of such an important improvement at the Tulsa Zoo!” Maurine Thornton & Ed Thomas, WALTZ 1998 Chairs Beginning in 1968, the siamangs were moved from their indoor exhibits inside the Conserva�on Center to what became Siamang Island. This island offered the closest experience to life in the wild for the siamangs, with no fences, water was the only barrier and containment for this exhibit. Each year as the seasons would change the tropical animals would need to be relocated during the winter months. WALTZ 1998, raised $220,000 to benefit the Siamang Island exhibit. A new building provided protec�on from inclement weather and indoor space for mul�ple primates. A new wooden sla�ed log bridge, allowed for crossover from the new indoor facility to the island. This also allowed easier access for zookeepers who had previously accessed the island by boat. New ropes draped from the towering bald cypress trees and offered new swinging points that visitors could see from a new elevated deck. In addi�on to the exhibit improvements, a new interac�ve playground was constructed for guests to simulate the natural behaviors of the primates.


S O U THW E ST DESERT RENOVATI ON Project Completed 2000

The challenge of commemora�ng the 10th anniversary of the zoo’s most successful fundraiser fell into the qualified hands of chair Suzanne Kneale. Kneale with co-chairs Becky Frank and Brooke Hamilton-Henry, as well as a vast team of community leaders, planned the most successful WALTZ to date. Proceeds from WALTZ 1999 benefited improvements to the Southwest Desert. This facility was a component of the Robert J. Lafortune North American Living Museum, which was built in 1978. Renova�ons to the Southwest Desert included major modifica�ons to the ceiling and the removal of aged theming. The original ceiling resembled that of the forest building with only six skylights. The new glass ceiling added with WALTZ funds improved the natural ligh�ng and be�er replicated the environment of the Southwest Desert for it’s inhabitants.


A FR ICAN P E NG UIN EXHIBIT Project Completed 2002

The first penguin to visit Tulsa Zoo was a Humboldt penguin in 1942. In 1970 par�al funds were in place to build a penguin exhibit. However, the funds were reallocated to purchase two new giraffes instead. It wasn’t un�l WALTZ 2000 that a penguin exhibit was finally a reality. Built en�rely with private dona�ons, the $1.34 million African penguin exhibit covers 2,500 square feet and holds 22,000 gallons of water. To simulate their natural environment, the pool has a wave machine and a sophis�cated geothermal hea�ng system to keep the water between 54 and 68 degrees -- the usual temperature of their na�ve South African coastal waters. African Penguins are endangered, and their wild popula�ons are decreasing due to habitat loss, pollu�on and other human interference. This exhibit was built with breeding in mind to contribute to the Species Survival Plan. On December 14, 2020, we celebrated our 40th penguin chick to be hatched since the exhibit opened. To make the milestone even more special, the 40th chick hatched is the first offspring of our first penguin chick Tallualah who was born April 29, 2003.


M AASAI VILLAG E Project Completed 2004

For over 30 years, Tulsa Zoo was known as Tulsa Zoo & Living Museum. The living museum dis�nc�on began with the addi�on of the Robert J. Lafortune North American Living Museum in 1978. WALTZ 2001 aimed at comple�ng the living museum component of the African Plains with the addi�on of the Maasai Village. This was a direct reflec�on of the zoos 1975 masterplan. This concentrated approach was meant to combine all aspects of a zoo, natural history museum, aquarium and botanical garden into one unifying experience. The integra�on of natural history museum components into these exhibits connected the natural world with human culture and showed the interdependence between humans and nature. The Maasai Village had been in the works for over 20 years a�er items had been collected during a 1978 trip to Africa by Larry Nunley (Zoo Director, 1998-2003). Prized pieces in this collec�on included a spear, shields and a range of apparel. By 2002, Tulsa Zoo exhibited over 4,500 animals and had a nonliving museum collec�on of more than 18,000. A recrea�on of a Maasai Village complete with temperature regulated huts opened to the public on June 12, 2004. A tribal chief from Ngorogoro Highlands, Tanzania was present to bless the opening of this Maasai Village recrea�on. Singuyan Kimani Ole Dorop, accompanied by his guide, Adam M�nga greeted guests and donors of this new exhibit.

2002, 2004-2009


Growing Wild! Capital Campaign In 2005, the Growing Wild! Capital Campaign planned to raise $6.5 million to develop and enhance four specific areas of Tulsa Zoo: Asian cats, Asian elephants, California sea lions, as well as add a mul�-use events center. WALTZ 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009: Helmerich Sea Lion Cove

Project Completed 2012

WALTZ 2002 fundraised to renovate the mid-century sea lion pool. As costs rose, the project sat dormant for nearly a decade. In 2012, a�er addi�onal WALTZ fundraising, the 2006 third-penny sales tax and public investment, Tulsa Zoo welcomed a new $5 million exhibit to the south end of the zoo. The Helmerich Sea Lion Cove built in honor of Walter H. Helmerich III, features a 100,000-gallon saltwater pool, naturalis�c island and waterfall along with a concave 30-foot-long underwater viewing window. WALTZ 2004, 2005: Elephant Demonstration Yard

Project Completed 2007

In 2004, a�er a one-year hiatus, WALTZ funds went to an expansion project at the Elephant Encounter. Originally funded by the 1987 City of Tulsa Bond Issue and Waltz on the Wild Side 1992, the project consisted of adding a new 4,830-square-foot demonstra�on yard to the exis�ng female elephant exhibit. The new area opened in 2007 and provides guests an elevated sea�ng area where they can observe a variety of training techniques and healthcare procedures including footcare, bathing and physical exams. WALTZ 2008: H.A. Chapman Event Lodge

Project Completed 2009

Opening in 2009, the 10,300-square-foot event lodge expanded our capacity for hos�ng events and provided a new indoor space for WALTZ. Leading to a viewing deck, large roll-up doors can be opened for a panoramic view of the African Savannah exhibits. The facility includes a large lobby, a full-service kitchen equipped to cater mul�ple events and a par��on to divide the room into two unique spaces.



Building Beyond Your Wildest Dreams Capital Campaign As part of the zoo’s transi�on from city governance to a public-private partnership in 2011, Tulsa Zoo Management, Inc. commissioned a new $154 million master plan in 2012. This new 20-year master plan includes renova�ons and new exhibits in five key complexes: African Wilds, Lost Kingdom, African Forest, Sheepy Hollow and Wild Islands. A new capital campaign “Building Beyond Your Wildest Dreams” embarked on raising the $154 million. The first phase was complete in 2018 resul�ng in $26 million of improvements in the zoo. From 2012 on, WALTZ con�nued to help this campaign annually. WALTZ 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016: Lost Kingdom

Project Completed 2017

A�er years of WALTZ fundraising, Lost Kingdom became the new home for our Asian cats in 2017. This $21 million complex allows guests to roam through landscapes inspired by ancient Asian ruins. More than four-acres, Lost Kingdom is home to some of Asia’s rarest species including, Malayan �gers, snow leopards, Chinese alligators, siamangs, red pandas, and Komodo dragons. WALTZ 2013: Mary K. Chapman Rhino Reserve

Project Completed 2013

The Mary K. Chapman Rhino Reserve encompasses nearly three acres of mixed species exhibit space. Situated on the site of the original African Savanna built in 1978, the new exhibit was modified to replace the 39-year-old white rhino exhibit formerly across from the playground. The largest component of the exhibit is the rhino barn that spans nearly 7,000 square feet. Built with a breeding program in mind, this circular barn has mul�ple stalls and indoor viewing for guests. WALTZ 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021: African Wilds

Projected Project Completion 2024

As the largest expansion to date in the African Plains sec�on of the zoo, African Wilds: Carnivores will replace the outdated 1964 cat gro�os located at the back of the zoo. It will also provide a much-needed new home for our lions, painted dogs, meerkats and other African animals. In addi�on, it will introduce pygmy hippos and bring back a favorite of our zoo guests - zebras. This $28 million exhibit will encompass 7 acres that will transport guests on a backpacking trip through modern-day Africa.

Profile for Tulsa Zoo

Celebrating 30 Years of WALTZ on the Wild SIde  

Since 1990, WALTZ has contributed to 17 projects. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of WALTZ on the Wild Side, we are taking a look bac...

Celebrating 30 Years of WALTZ on the Wild SIde  

Since 1990, WALTZ has contributed to 17 projects. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of WALTZ on the Wild Side, we are taking a look bac...

Profile for tulsazoo

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