Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

To develop a zoo on a 15.5-acre area of the county’s South Mountain Reservation, the Essex County Park Commission, led by President William Wachenfeld, granted Max Drill, Inc. a $400,000 contract. A seasonal zoo for kids was to be built. The zoo was designed by Tjark Reiss, who used Hans Christian Anderson’s nursery rhyme themes and other children’s tales to inspire his displays. There were also farm animals and a mile-long small vintage train excursion through the zoo’s woods. Browse around this site.


Turtle Back Zoo opened on June 3, 1963, with 140 animals from 40 species. In the mountains directly east of the zoo, there is a rock formation called “The Rock.” The Lanape Indians so named turtle Back Rock. You seem to be standing on the back of an enormous turtle because of the pattern made by gigantic balsatic crystals on the rocks.


Zoo animals had expanded to 850 in 1973, representing 275 species.


On the other hand, in 1975, a Zoological Society was formed to promote the zoo and raise funds. The inaugural board meeting was in September 1975. The County Executive replaced the independent Board of Park Commissioners that directly governed the zoo in 1978.


American Zoo and Aquarium Association certification was the main emphasis of the zoo’s new master plan in 2000. The zoo started replacing its old 1960s-style cages with new naturalistic habitats for its animals in 2007. For its animal inhabitants and as a quarantine facility for its increasing animal collection, Turtle Back Zoo opened its new 1.8 million dollar Essex County Animal Hospital in 2005 at Turtle Back Park. This comprised a walk-through gift shop, a 4,000 square foot reptile center, administrative offices, a new group entrance, and two classrooms open into an auditorium. On top of it, in 2006, a new picnic pavilion and animal-


The American Zoo and Aquarium Association certified Turtle Back Zoo in September 2006. By receiving this prestigious award, Turtle Back Zoo joins the ranks of the country’s best zoos and aquariums.


TURTLE BACK ZOO is dedicated to inspiring current and future generations to understand, respect, and safeguard the delicate interconnectedness of all living things. Essex County Parks run turtle Back Zoo. In addition, Essex County supports the zoo as a public service to its citizens and adjacent regions. Turtle Back Zoo’s funding arm is the Zoological Society of NJ Inc. The Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising donations for Turtle Back Zoo. For further information, call 973-731-5800.