Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

May 23, 2019

New York State Announces Opening of New $3.7 Million Reptile House at the Buffalo Zoo

Project Identified as Regional Priority by Western New York Regional Economic Development Council

Newest Attraction Key to Drawing Tourism Dollars to Buffalo

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the opening of the Buffalo Zoo's new $3.7 million Donna M. Fernandes Amphibian and Reptile Center. The restored facility will be home to the Zoo's newest residents, including a kamado dragon and the largest type of venomous snake in the Western Hemisphere.

"With the continued investment at the Buffalo Zoo, we are bolstering its position as a tourist destination that continues to attract visitors from around the globe," Governor Cuomo said. "The Zoo is a key element in solidifying Western New York as an economic engine that will continue the region's unprecedented growth."

"As a frequent visitor to the Buffalo Zoo, I'm proud of the strategic investment we have made to ensure this historic landmark continues to grow as a regional tourist destination," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who spoke at today's ribbon cutting. "The modernization of the former reptile house welcomes new amphibian and reptile species to the Buffalo Zoo, offering new experiences that will help to increase visitors. The zoo's growth would not have been made possible without the incredible leadership of Donna Fernandes, along with state and local partners who have worked together to ensure a growing economy in Buffalo and throughout the entire Western New York region."

Originally built in 1942, the Zoo's Reptile House was deemed the finest in the nation when it opened. The rehabilitated facility will include a new roof, heating and ventilation systems, several new and renovated naturalistic habitats and interactive educational elements. Acknowledging the original innovative design by Marlin Perkins, the update will preserve much of the facility while moving forward to create a safe and welcoming space for the animals and visitors alike.

The updated Reptile House will allow the Buffalo Zoo to bring new species in to reside there. In addition to the kamado dragon and bushmaster snake, the exhibits will focus on habitats where species can co-exist such as the Ecuadorian Stream and Australian Stream. Additionally, the Zoo will be able to continue conservation efforts aimed at hellbenders, Puerto Rican crested toads and Panamanian golden frogs.

The Western New York Regional Economic Development Council named the Buffalo Zoo Amphibian and Reptile Center as a regional priority in 2015, as it aligns with the council's tourism and smart growth strategies. Funding from public sources includes $500,000 from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, $300,000 from Assemblyman Sean Ryan, $150,000 from Senator Chris Jacobs, and $265,878 from the City of Buffalo.

Over the last decade, a $32 million investment in new exhibits and visitor amenities has helped the zoo grow from 330,000 to 450,000 visitors annually, with 35 percent of visitors coming from outside Erie County. The Zoo is a leading employer of youth within the City of Buffalo, who are trained to work in its ticketing, food service and gift shop operations. Additionally, the recent construction of a state-of-the-art polar bear habitat, partially funded with $750,000 from the Governor's NY Works program, has significantly enhanced the Zoo's winter attendance, protecting many of the Zoo's jobs.

Erik Kulleseid, Acting Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said, "The Buffalo Zoo is a critical contributor to the region's high quality of life and economic development potential. The Environmental Protection Fund, New York State Parks is proud to invest in this wonderful Western New York institution."

Norah Fletchall, President and CEO, Buffalo Zoo, said, "We are tremendously grateful to New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation for their generous support of the Donna M. Fernandes Amphibian and Reptile Center. These types of relationships are vital for both humans and animals alike. Our community now has a newly renovated destination to grow their appreciation of the importance of amphibians and reptiles in our world and the animals have new state-of-the-art exhibits where they can continue to thrive."

Senator Tim Kennedy said, "The Buffalo Zoo is an innovative cultural and educational resource, and the renovation of the Amphibian and Reptile Center will only further fuel exciting experiences for the thousands of families across WNY and the country who visit every year. I'm proud to see New York State and the WNYREDC prioritize this incredible project, and I look forward to exploring this upgraded habitat with my family in the future."

Senator Chris Jacobs said, "The Buffalo Zoo is a tremendous regional asset that I am privileged to have in my district, and I am very pleased to have secured $150,000 to aid in the completion of the of the new Donna M. Ferandes Amphibian and Reptile Center," said Senator Jacobs. "This new facility will certainly add to the Zoo's reputation as a world class destination and it will attract and entertain families and visitors for decades to come."

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, "The Buffalo Zoo is one of our City's greatest treasures. I'm proud to say that thanks to the funds secured by my WNY delegation colleagues, plus considerable private and public support, the Buffalo Zoo now has a state of the art reptile and amphibian facility. Named for Donna M. Fernandez and her incredible leadership at the Buffalo Zoo, this renovation project is just another example of New York State's commitment to supporting Buffalo and it's continued efforts to have world class attractions for residents and visitors alike.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan said, "I'm proud to have worked with the great team at The Buffalo Zoo to bring a new Amphibian and Reptile Center to Buffalo. This new center will expand the educational opportunities already offered at the zoo and will provide state-of-the-art facilities to help ensure the health of the animals who will be living in the new exhibit. The Buffalo Zoo's continued improvements are just another sign of the tremendous growth we've seen across our region and I'm proud to be a part of the team that provided the funding to bring this project to life."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, "The City of Buffalo is fortunate to have a world-class Zoo where families from all over Western New York and beyond can learn, play and spend quality time together. The City continues to support the Buffalo Zoo through this project and I am proud that my Administration has committed more than $3.25 Million in capital investments to this valuable tourist attraction since I took office in 2006."

About the Buffalo Zoo
Founded in 1875, the Buffalo Zoo is the third and oldest zoo in the United States. The Buffalo Zoo welcomes more than 450,000 visitors each year and is the most visited cultural attraction in Erie County. Located on 23.5 acres of Olmsted's beautiful Delaware Park, the Buffalo Zoo houses approximately 1,000 endangered and domestic animals and offers visitors a variety of events and educational programs year-round. The Buffalo Zoo's philosophy is to exhibit animals and plants in naturalistic settings that represent their native habitats. The Zoo is dedicated to providing visitors with a better understand of nature, including how animals relate to each other, their environment and humankind.