Construction is under way at ZooMontana, where volunteers are updating a section of the zoo’s indoor exhibits.
Part of the Discovery and Education Center, the zoo’s Living Wall houses smaller animals and reptiles, including iguanas, chinchillas and a mink.
After losing its Association of Zoos and Aquariums accreditation last summer, the zoo has been working on updating and revamping areas highlighted by the AZA committee.
As it looks now, the exhibits are separate enclosures across from an area blocked off for the zoo’s preschool classes.
The area was originally meant for gatherings, but as the animal collection grew, so did the need for indoor space.
The plan is to add an actual wall with viewing areas for the enclosures, giving the area more consistency. The setup also would allow for a few new exhibits.
“Basically, we are going to turn that whole wall into a living exhibit, solid with the room for the keepers in the back to take care of the critters,” said Dick Scott, of Skywalker Construction, a volunteer on the project.
The zoo received several small donations, totaling around $3,000, combined with their own funding of about $3,000 toward the project.
An unexpected anonymous donation of $10,000 came in last week, meaning the zoo can now build beyond their prior expectations.
“It’s wonderful,” said Jeff Ewelt, ZooMontana director. “It allows us to do a different design and larger exhibits.”
Ewelt said he hopes to bring in a larger mammal to be used for education outreach, as well as incorporate more multi-species exhibits and live plants.
A few animals being discussed are bush babies, a sloth, porcupine and poison arrow frogs.
The project began in mid-December, and may be completed in the spring.
Two longtime zoo volunteers are doing their best to make that happen. Working alongside Scott is Melanie Richard who has been responsible for the painting and design of many projects around the zoo, including its new beaver exhibit.
She’s volunteered at the zoo since 1993.
The pair were responsible for the other living wall at the zoo where the snakes, spiders and cockroaches are on exhibit.
Richard said that so far, they have refurbished two of three boxes that were already in the Living Wall area, and will soon start building the new design.
“We are moving fairly rapidly, but I don’t know how long the new style will take,” Richard said.
Scott has volunteered at the zoo off and on for the past 17 years. Working long shifts at a power company in Hardin means he has extra days off.
He’s able to offer his expertise a couple times a week.
“I also do contracting on the side, and just had no irons in the fire other than my regular job, so I figured I have time off, I might as well put it to use,” he said.