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05:08 AM

Philanthropists Joy and Boysie Bollinger Make Largest-Ever Individual Donation to Audubon Zoo

$5 million gift will fund new African lion habitat

The lion’s roar will soon return to Audubon Zoo thanks to Joy and Donald “Boysie’’ Bollinger.

Boysie Bollinger, a philanthropist and Louisiana shipbuilding magnate, and his wife have donated $5 million to Audubon Nature Institute that will fund design and construction of a sprawling habitat for African lions. Audubon officials say the project will spur a larger redesign of the Zoo’s popular African Savanna exhibit that opened in the 1980s.

The $5 million donation – the largest single gift Audubon Zoo has ever received from a private individual or family – will be announced at an evening event at the Audubon Tea Room on Wednesday, September 14.

Plans call for a pride of African lions to inhabit the new, 1.5-acre exhibit on a site that now houses the Zoo’s eland collection across from the rhino and zebra habitat. Design work is under way; construction could begin as early as next spring with an opening set for 2018.

With an eye toward breeding lion cubs in the future, Zoo officials expect the exhibit to have one male lion and two or three females.

Throughout many parts of Africa, lion populations have declined sharply since the early 1990s and studies show that the numbers are likely to dwindle further in the next two decades unless major conservation efforts to save them are successful.

Lions, a part of Audubon Zoo’s animal collection since the 1940s when it was known as the Merz Memorial Zoo, have not been part of the animal collection for three years. Bubba, a male, died of cancer in May 2013 and female Cassie – now 19 years old – “retired’’ to the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center on the West Bank later that year.

Ron Forman, Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO
“For generations, lions were a fixture at Audubon Zoo. Now, thanks to the generosity of Joy and Boysie Bollinger, they’re coming back.’’ 
Ron Forman, Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO

“When Bubba was still around, I would crack the window open a little bit just to hear his majestic roar in the morning. That sound was comforting in so many ways. We have all missed the lions at Audubon Zoo. Everyone is looking forward to hearing that iconic roar once again.’’

The Bollingers, who have visited Africa many times, said they want their gift to offer a way for young people to share their experiences.

"Many children who come to the zoo will never get to see these magnificent animals in the wild,'' said Joy Bollinger. "So this is bringing Africa to them.''

Boysie Bollinger, a member of the Audubon Commission, said he is hopeful that his family's donation will inspire others to contribute in different ways.

Boysie Bollinger
"I think it's important to give back. We've been blessed with very fortunate resources and we're able to support a lot of worthy causes and we're happy to do so."

Boysie Bollinger

"We have always enjoyed supporting Audubon Nature Institute. When we recently asked where support was needed, Ron presented us with the opportunity to bring lions back to the Zoo. So we were very excited that the Zoo was planning a lion exhibit at the same time we were planning a substantial gift. It just worked perfectly well."

Audubon Zoo General Curator and Vice President Joel Hamilton said bringing back lions is a logical way to kick off the remodeling of the African Savanna.

“The lion is an important species that is facing difficulty in the wild,’’ Hamilton said. ''The public loves lions for many different reasons. They're the 'king of the jungle' even though they don’t live in jungles necessarily. We look forward to bringing these majestic animals back to Audubon Zoo.’’

Hamilton said the new lion habitat will bring guests new experiences that incorporate all the latest thinking and elements in exhibit design.

For example, plans call for two “training walls’’ where animal experts will work with lions, teaching them to open their mouths for dental exams and to stretch out for medical checkups.

Long-range plans also call for introducing other species native to the African continent into the exhibit.

Placing the lion habitat in the Africa exhibit is the latest effort by Audubon Zoo to enhance the geographic approach to the animal collection at Audubon Zoo. It follows the recent move of the orangutan collection from the World of Primates to Asia.

Approximately 60 percent of the existing eland exhibit will be reserved for the lion habitat, with the remaining space set aside for a mix of hoofstock and bird species. Among the species under consideration for the neighboring exhibit are Thompson gazelles, duikers, ground hornbills and secretary birds.

  • Existing pathways through the African Savanna will be redesigned to bring visitors closer to the animals.
  • The new exhibit will include viewing stations, including one with all glass panels similar to those that look into the new Audubon Zoo orangutan habitat that opened last year.
  • The exhibit will feature replicas of “kopjes,’’ majestic granite formations that dot the vast African savanna like rocky islands in a sea of grass. Kopjes provide shelter for lions and other wildlife attracted by vegetation, shade, caves for dwelling, pools of water and vantage points to spot predators. Humans also have called kopjes home and Audubon plans to incorporate examples of cave art found on the rocks.
  • Plans call for a state-of-the-art, 4,000-square-foot holding facility for lions.
  • Audubon’s rhinos and zebras will remain in their current location. Three giant Aldabra tortoises near the eland exhibit will be moved to another location and the eland collection may be relocated temporarily to the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center on the West Bank.
  • The long-range vision calls for the lion exhibit to serve as a hub for future development. Plans call for a lodge from which visitors can look out over savanna and forest developments.
  • The savanna could feature an exotic mixture of species, including giraffe, river hippos, rhino and black-backed jackals, and the forest component may include a new gorilla habitat where large primates are accompanied by mandrills, red river hogs, mangabeys, pygmy hippos, bongo and okapi.
Audubon Nature Institute

Audubon Nature Institute operates a family of museums, parks and research facilities dedicated to celebrating the wonders of nature. Through innovative live animal exhibits, education programs and scientific discovery, Audubon makes a meaningful contribution to preserving wildlife for the future. Audubon Nature Institute flagships include Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy Giant Screen Theater, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Special Survival Center, Woldenberg Riverfront Park and Audubon Wilderness Park. Ron Forman is President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute.