Wild Animal Park Upgrade

By Loren Faulkner | September 28, 2010

"It's not every project where you are charged by rhinos and white lipped deer," says Bob Boyles, project superindant with Rudolph and Sletten, Inc. That is, unless your construction takes place in Africa or in this case the next closest thing to it — San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park in Escondido, Calif. Rudolph and Sletten, Inc. is the general contractor for the park's newest attraction, "Journey Into Africa."

Boyles and other construction crewmembers were taught by park animal experts what to expect around wild animals, and to be cautious, but Boyles considers these construction challenges worthwhile:

"The San Diego Wild Animal Park is not just an amusement park, it is a real life adventure. We go to special lengths to enhance guest experience by constructing buildings and features that surround visitors with authenticity — natural elements and native features."

The Wild Animal Park has invested $42 million in making the park more ADA accessible and making animal habitats and views more "visitor-friendly."

The newest feature is called, "Journey Into Africa." Some 250 animals were moved into improved topography that allows visitors to get 100 feet to 300 feet closer to the animals, riding on new open-sided tour vehicles, powered by biodiesel fuel. The journey loops around a new 2.5-mile road encompassing 213 acres.

Other upgrading:

Monorail Linkup; Asia/Africa Barrier that better delineates two distinctive topographies; and Boma Animal Containment Building, a special area set aside for certain animals such as giraffes and rhinos just before and after giving birth, and for quarantining a large animal, and outdoor medical needs.

Overall work began on the new phases in September 2005 with the African tour opening a few months ago. Now, the upgrade is in its final phase with construction of a massive elevator station that will lift some 1,100 park visitors per hour from the "Heart of Africa" and Lion Camp area, to the African Rift level and Nairobi Village, some 40 feet above it. It is slated for completion in December 2007.

Current Construction Challenges

"Making sure we keep the public safe is our number one concern," said John Bunje, current project manager on-site for Rudolph and Sletten, Inc. "We have a full-time on-site safety coordinator. Also, construction material deliveries arrive before 8:30 a.m., before the park opens. Sometimes we've worked at 3:00 a.m. on the roadway for utilities and paving, to keep disruption to a minimum. There is a twice daily inspection making sure fencing is intact, all to keep the public safe."

No Safety Detail Left Out

When crews start welding the steel elevator structure near the Gibbon monkey exhibit soon, park officials will make sure the primates won't ruin their eyesight.

"The monkeys are curious and would stare into the dangerous arc light of the welders' torches, causing damage to their retinas," said Michael Ahlering, director, park operations. "So we will make sure tarps are placed in such a way around the work so as to shield their eyes from danger."

Final Phase:

"We're very pleased about the quality of the work performed," said Ahlering. "We are excited about the Great Lift Rift elevator project that will tie our new tour system into our 'Nairobi Village,' making it much easier for our guests to get around."

The Great Rift Lift deck area will be 3,700 square feet; the walkway, 3,100 square feet. The building will be constructed on top of 28 drilled caissons and a system of spread footings and grade beams totaling some 370 cubic yards of concrete. The structure consists of steel columns and beams with wood infill to incorporate the decking. Approximately 62,000 board-feet of lumber and 123 tons of steel will be used in construction of this project.


San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park is an expansive wildlife sanctuary containing some of Earth's rare creatures. They are able to roam in herds and flocks in large enclosures resembling their native homelands. Its home to more than 3,500 animals representing 429 species, including the largest group of rhinos in any zoological facility, and one of the only California condor exhibits in the world.

Other Key Rudolph and Sletten, Inc. employees on this project:

  • Ray Diaz, superintendent at the Great Rift Lift.
  • John Curtin, sr. project engineer involved with the Africa Station and the tour vehicle maintenance facility.
  • Gina Rivas, the estimator who saw that the projects fit within the budgets.
  • Israel Moreno, jobsite safety coordinator at the Great Rift Lift.
  • Reinie Foster who helped with field coordination on multiple projects, most notably the Africa Station.
  • Leigh Proudfoot — chief estimator.
  • Andrew Gaylor — estimator.