New primate exhibit opens Monday at Saint Louis Zoo, reservations required


ST. LOUIS – In the animal world, primates are regarded as the most social of mammals due to their formation of pairs and family groups. So, it only makes sense that some long-tenured residents at the Saint Louis Zoo receive an expanded place to climb, swing, and monkey around. 

Zoo members got a chance to visit the newly-christened primate canopy trails. The $13 million addition will be open to the public Monday beginning at 10 a.m.

On the surface, it’s a 35,000-square-foot outdoor expansion for the zoo’s primates. For these playmates, it’s the ultimate jungle gym.

“It is Christmas in July for them, for sure,” St. Louis Zoo Director Michael Macek said. “Incredibly thrilled today to see the animals outside. Seeing the guests enjoy the experience, which is a very unique sort of habitat. Something different than what we’ve done here before.”

Featuring eight newly-created outdoor areas for exercise and interaction, the Michael and Quirsis Riney primate canopy trails provide romping room for the 14 species that currently reside in the connected primate house. And everything in the new exhibit is interconnected.  

“We have about 70 different combinations of where you might find a given species on any given day,” Macek said. “So for example, you might find one species on the first habitat you come to, and come back the next day, they’re someplace else.” 

The original primate house was built in 1925 and then renovated in 1977. But for some living there in the past, and even for a few recently, they could never go beyond the house’s interior.

Some were simply too small, or conversely, too strong to venture outside. 

“So much has changed since the early ’20’s when we first built the historic building. We know so much more about animal welfare and well-being,” Macek said.

Thanks to donations, this breakthrough launched construction in late 2019. 

For the ones who patiently waited, now marks the first time that they can feel the sun on their face and the breeze through their fur. 

“Our animals have been going in and out for about the last five or six weeks,” Macek said. “Really, I have to say for the primates, it was most satisfying to see how much how much they seemed to be enjoying and utilizing the entire space.”

Onlookers can travel the multi-leveled exhibit from the forest floor, through a see-through tunnel, up to the treetops, and in the process get that lemur’s eye view in various spaces.

And in turn, the primates love their own freedom of choice. It’s what they want. 

“Animals will have choice. You can imagine that this is just so much, more enriching for the animals,” Macek said.

Admission to the new primate canopy trails is free, but reservations are required in advance. To make a reservation, visit the Saint Louis Zoo’s website.

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