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Biggest-ever gift to Detroit Zoo is a big deal for penguins


The Detroit Zoo announced the largest single private gift in its history Wednesday—and it’s all about penguins.

The $10 million gift from the Polk Family Fund will go toward building the Polk Family Penguin Conservation Center.

Zoo officials say the Center has been in the “planning and design” phase for two years now.

The 25-foot-deep, 310,000 gallon aquarium will feature tunnels where visitors can see penguins from both above and below. They’ll get to see the penguins “deep-water dive,” something that “cannot be seen anywhere else, even in nature,” said the zoo in a statement.

The Center will also use special effects to make the experience “as authentic as possible,” for both the 80 penguins and their human visitors, says Detroit Zoological Society CEO Ron Kagan (sample an interactive tour here).

Kagan says the hope is the Center will raise awareness of changes at the earth’s poles—and do for the Antarctic what the Zoo’s polar bear exhibit has done for the Arctic.

“We want to help people understand what’s happening in Antarctica, [and] what’s happening with respect to the world’s oceans and climate,” Kagan says. “And telling that story through the eyes of penguins is kind of a really exciting way of doing it.”

The $21 million project—which the Zoo calls the largest in its 85-year history—is slated to open in 2015.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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