ASHEBORO — With construction of the North Carolina Zoo’s Asia region moving along a short distance away, the NC Zoo Society Foundation accepted a check for $2 million from the State Employees Credit Union (SECU) Foundation.
A celebration of sorts took place on May 17 in front of the new baboon habitat, not yet open to the public. John Ruffin, chair of the Zoo Society’s Board of Directors, said the SECU gift was the largest ever to the Zoo Society Foundation.
“The impact of this will be felt for many years,” he said. “The NC Zoo Society is honored to have been selected as an SECU Foundation grant recipient. Partnerships like this will help us build the new Asia Habitat expansion and continue our goal of securing a safe and enduring future for the zoo and its programs.”
A joint press release from the NC Zoo and SECU said, “Funding from the foundation will enable the zoo to expand its capacity for education and outreach for both virtual and in-person visits through the SECU Visitor View Pavilion and Classroom in Asia, the centerpiece of the new 10-acre complex. The Pavilion and Classroom will offer a formal venue for interactive learning and a glass observation wall overlooking an indoor primate habitat. It will also provide a closer look at Komodo dragons, gibbons, giant salamanders, king cobras, and other animal species.”
Zoo Director Pat Simmons said SECU wanted to make the addition “the best possible classroom.” Noting that it will be in the middle of a zoo, Simmons foresaw campers staying “overnight with animals next to you sleeping. A lot of memories are going to be made.”
Asia is currently under construction and is expected to open in 2026.
Simmons said the vision from the zoo’s beginning was to develop regions for each of the seven continents. But Asia will be just the third and the first to be created since North American in 1994. On the horizon beyond the opening of Asia are plans for Australia and The Amazon.
“Bringing the world’s continents to the North Carolina Zoo has always been our goal, and this generous gift brings us closer to our mission and celebrates the uniqueness of the animals and culture of Asia,” Simmons said.
Bob Brinson, chair of the SECU Foundation Board of Directors, reminded everyone that “folks who work at the zoo are state employees. Each member of SECU has contributed” to the gift to the Zoo Society.
“North Carolina is most fortunate to have a world-class facility that is dedicated to protecting wildlife populations and their living habitats while educating the community about conserving the natural world,” Brinson said. “Education is one of the Foundation’s core areas for giving, and we are pleased to support the zoo’s expansion project to further enrich experiences for visitors of all ages. This will be the first formal education space for science, research and conservation.”
Adding Asia, along with the Visitor View Pavilion and Classroom, Brinson said, “will help the park become a multi-day stay” for visitors. “We’re pleased to be part of the project.”