By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 24, 2018 at 4:39 PM

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee announced today that it quietly launched a capital campaign that has already raised $16.7 million toward a $25 million required for the first phase of a plan that will transform the Milwaukee County Zoo over the course of the next 25 years.

That initial phase of the plan – which is called Window to the Wild – will redesign 25 percent of the zoo’s developed footprint, which according to zoo officials will be the largest physical change to the zoo since it moved to its current site from Washington Park in 1961.

The initial phase will create Adventure Africa, which includes new exhibit areas for the elephants, rhinos, hippos and African hoofstock.

Work on this project has, in fact, already begun and the new elephant area – designed in collaboration with HGA, a Milwaukee-based architecture firm – is expected to open by next spring.

A 360-degree panoramic rendering of the elephant project can be seen here.

"Elephants are wonderful, intelligent animals. They have great social needs and we have to continue to accommodate that," says Zoo Director Chuck Wikenhauser.

"The amount of space and the amount of enrichment opportunities we have in there is really going to create such a wonderful atmosphere for the animals."

The new area will be larger and will have both a semi-heated outdoor space for the elephants to use in winter and a barn in which the public can view the humongous residents on a year-round basis. There will also be a variety of "enrichment items" – aka toys – to help keep the elephants mentally and physically healthy.

"This is the first step toward transforming our beloved Zoo, and I invite the community to be a part of this exciting adventure and help us make Adventure Africa a reality," said Zoological Society president and CEO Jodi Gibson.

Adventure Africa will also encompass a new rhinoceros exhibit and, next up after the completion of the elephant area, a new hippopotamus exhibit with an underwater viewing area.

According to Katie Krecklow of the Zoological Society, plans are underway for those projects but no completion dates are yet set.

The Milwaukee County Zoo currently has two elephants – Brittany and Ruth – as well as two hippos (Happy and Patti) and two rhinos, Jozi and Mimi.

The zoo is using a "Beastie Safari" – featuring the beastie sculptures (see Paul Ruffalo photo at right) designed by Milwaukee artist Dennis Pearson – to launch the capital campaign and you will find 42 colorful beastie’s, including 17 on the zoo grounds, 18 around Milwaukee and seven in the Waukesha area.

A map of the locations is here.

Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.