A Sneak Peek of the Red River Zoo’s New “Pride of the Prairie” Exhibit!
The first stages of building the Red River Zoo’s Pride of the Prairie viewing building started last year!
As a former employee of the Red River Zoo and a lover of all animals, I am always excited to hear about the new, cool exhibits the Zoo has planned. This summer, the Zoo is opening a brand new exhibit with a much-requested prairie animal—bison! Along with the bison, they’ll be moving in some of their other native prairie animals—like the prairie dogs and the black-footed ferrets—to create a diverse and impressive prairie-focused exhibit. I sat down with Sally Jacobson, President and CEO of the Red River Zoo, to talk about the process of creating this new exhibit, the history of their bison, their partnership with SCHEELS, and more!
President and CEO, Red River Zoo
Q&A with President/CEO Sally Jacobson
Describe the Pride of the Prairie exhibit for me.
We’re super excited to be opening up the SCHEELS Pride of the Prairie exhibit [which we did] on Friday, June 2, the day before National Prairie Day [which is the first Saturday of June every year]. The Zoo has a pretty amazing collection of animals, as well as a master plan for future growth. A few years ago, we had identified—with us being in Fargo, and having the NDSU Bison, and everything else in our history in North Dakota—that we wanted to have bison at the zoo. But when we do something, we like to do it to the best of our ability and have a connection to conservation, as well as have a nice space for guests. Pride of the Prairie really is a wonderful opportunity for us to highlight the importance of prairie animals and the prairie ecosystem. Not only will it have bison, but it will have prairie dogs, a new home for our black-footed ferrets (which are critically endangered animals), and our bull snakes. Then, eventually, we’re going to be adding pronghorn, [which are related to antelope]. The part I like most about it is that it has this beautiful building for the guests to view it. As you walk in, it has these gigantic windows, and it just feels like the prairie. You feel like the sky is endless, just like you do when you’re driving in North Dakota. We really want to inspire awe in our prairie ecosystem and conservation efforts in our own backyard.
The prairie dogs, previously housed near the deer exhibit and the Dancing Crane Cafe will be moving to a new home in the Pride of the Prairie exhibit!
The Pride of the Prairie exhibit will have electronic signs that provide a ton of information about the history of the bison they have in the zoo!
How did this exhibit come to be?
The Zoo has its own collection plan that includes both animals that we currently have and any changes we want to make to those exhibits, as well as additional animals in the future. We don’t build an exhibit unless we know that we can financially sustain and staff it and have the expertise on how to take care of those animals. And so, I had mentioned that about five years ago, we identified that Bison would be something that we could bring to the Zoo, and we felt like we could do it really well. But when we do exhibits, we really want to ensure that we are portraying the animals in a way that is really respectful so that guests are not viewing an animal in a “cage.” They’re viewing an animal in a beautiful space, with water and grass and living trees, as well as designing the exhibits to be an excellent place for the animals be able to participate in natural behavior.
We actually do most of the designing [of the exhibits] ourselves in-house, which is a really fun process. I think designing exhibits is one of my favorite parts of the job. It always starts out with a little pencil, and a few of us from the Zoo, penciling out what we would ideally want to do and then erasing and penciling out more. For the Pride of the Prairie exhibit, we also had a wonderful architect that helped us with the “human building,” [the guest viewing building]. For the Pride of the Prairie exhibit, [local architect] Scott Dahms donated his time and his services and sat down with myself and some senior managers. We explained to him what we were looking at, and he helped get the plans in order for us. It’s really a whole community project.
Currently, the bison are kept in the back pasture of the exhibit to allow grass to grow in the front pasture while it is muddy in the spring. In the summer, you’ll be able to see them up close!
The large windows in the Pride of the Prairie viewing building allow guests to feel like they’re really on the prairie with the animals.
How did SCHEELS get involved with the exhibit?
We have a lot of relationships with a lot of businesses in town that have business partnerships with us or might have sponsorship days at the Zoo, among other things. We touch base with SCHEELS as the Zoo continues to grow, and just let them know what exhibits we might be doing. And the SCHEELS foundation expressed some interest in helping us fund this exhibit because it fit so well with their values and mission.
Can you tell me a bit more about the bison that you’ll have on exhibit?
One thing I like to do as we move forward [in growing the Zoo] is that every major exhibit needs to have a conservation tie, so that it gives us a megaphone for the efforts that we’re doing here at the Zoo and beyond. If a guest comes in and they’re inspired by something, they can actually help take part in conservation efforts or support them. With our bison, we’ve worked with Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. And they have these wonderful, precious bison that have a long history directly tied to Theodore Roosevelt and the Bronx Zoo. In the late 1800s, when the [bison] population was decimated, Theodore Roosevelt worked with the director of the Bronx Zoo to bring down some bison that did not have any cattle genes (some refer to these bison as “genetically pure”) to help repopulate the park. That’s how their park has now sustained their bison population—they all came from that initial little herd.
Sally shows off the new ferret exhibit in the Pride of the Prairie viewing building— soon, it will be cozy enough for our blackfooted ferret friends to move in!
This is the first time that those bison will be coming back to a zoo, with the intention of having a breeding program helping to [increase the number of bison in the US]. The offspring could go to other national parks, possibly other zoos that have similar conservation efforts, or native groups that may be trying to repopulate native lands with these bison.
Through our relationship with Wind Cave National Park, we send staff down every year to help with conservation efforts, particularly for the black-footed ferrets. But they can come and learn about the bison, too. And if guests want to get engaged in something at the park, they can volunteer to come down with us when we go to help with the ferrets. We want to make sure that guests are having a fun and fabulous time where they’re making memories with their families. But if they want to learn a little bit more or get involved, there’s that opportunity, too.
The exhibit is now open! Grab your friends and family and check out the SCHEELS Pride of the Praire exhibit!