Denver, CO (December 2, 2009) – Guests of Denver Zoo’s groundbreaking for its new exhibit, Asian Tropics, were treated to an event of elephantine proportions today. After listening to Mayor John Hickenlooper discuss his excitement for the project, those in attendance may have expected a few dignitaries to scoop some dirt for cameras. Instead they were surprised to see a large front end loader leading a throng of zoo staff and volunteers plow through a former concessions building on the site where Asian Tropics will stand. The dramatic event symbolized the scope of what the Zoo’s largest conservation project will achieve.

“Today is the culmination of years of hard work that will bring jobs to the area, integrate green initiatives and, of course, support wildlife,” said Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. “We owe a special thanks to Denver voters who made this project possible through their support of the Zoo Improvements Bond initiative. Asian Tropics will continue Denver Zoo’s tradition of developing innovative exhibits for animals and fun, educational experiences for children and families.”

Occupying 10-acres on the southern edge of the zoo, Asian Tropics will be a $50 million conservation center devoted to highly-endangered Asian species including elephants, Indian rhinos and Malayan tapirs. The expansive complex will allow visitors to explore and discover the rich history of animals in Asian culture, their complicated relationship with humans and the efforts Denver Zoo and its partners around the world are taking to protect their futures. Zoo Improvements Bond Fund approved by voters in 1999 to revitalize the zoo will fund half of the project with the balance coming from private donations.

Asian Tropics will play a vital role in the conservation of many endangered Asian animals. “With less than 35,000 Asian elephants and only 3,000 Indian rhinos left on our planet, we must take a multi-pronged approach to preserve a future for these precious animals,” said Denver Zoological Foundation Board Chairman Patrick Green. “Asian Tropics will serve as a conservation center, educating Denver Zoo’s 1.9 million visitors on the plight of these animals and inspiring them to become involved in the effort to take action in support of animal conservation.  The exhibit will also be linked with Denver Zoo’s growing field conservation programs in tropical Asia focused on finding practical ways to resolve human/animal conflicts.”

A leader in environmental stewardship, Denver Zoo is seeking LEED certification for Asian Tropics. Plans are also in place to power the exhibit with a biomass gasification system. This green technological breakthrough will convert the zoo’s diverse waste stream of animal waste and human trash into a usable combustible gas. The gasifier will support the Zoo’s efforts to reduce its landfill contributions by more than 90 percent, eliminating 1.5 million pounds of trash currently going to landfills annually and reducing energy and waste hauling costs by $150,000 a year.

“Asian Tropics will fulfill two of our most important goals,” noted Denver Zoo President/CEO Craig Piper. “It will be a center for Denver’s Zoo’s work here and across the globe to secure a future for elephants and other endangered species, but will also demonstrate our commitment to sustainable business practices and reduce our own environmental impact. We hope to help other Colorado businesses adopt greener practices that also improve their bottom lines.”

The exhibit will also support the local economy. More than 300 workers will be employed during the two-year construction period. Once built, the zoo will employ a number of additional staff to operate the new facilities.

Denver Zoo is proud to announce the Kiewit Building Group has been awarded the construction contract. The 125-year-old company has a strong local resume having previously completed the T-REX mass transit project as well as Denver Zoo’s Bird Propagation Center in 2007.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to construct this unique and challenging project,” said Kiewit Project Executive Chris Bantner. “We are proud to contribute our expertise to make this a one-of-a-kind facility a reality for the people of Denver.”

Asian Tropics construction will take two years to complete. The zoo will remain open throughout construction and all major pathways will remain open for the duration of the project.