In a sweltering outdoor ceremony that would have slowed down a lesser showman, Mayor Tom Leppert reveled in his latest ribbon-cutting duties this morning, unveiling the Dallas Zoo's new Giants of the Savanna exhibit. He's been through the routine more times than we can count, but Leppert was enthused at the podium before what he promised would be "the best ribbon-cutting you've ever seen."
If nothing else, it promised more substance than yesterday's summer blockbuster at City Hall.
"I have cut ribbons with little scissors, and I have cut ribbons with big scissors," he bragged, though he didn't even mention the lasers. "I have never cut ribbons with the two special guests that will now cut the ribbon at the Giants of the Savanna exhibit at the great Dallas Zoo."
Leppert turned to face a giant red banner between two distant boulders, as a low drum beat behind him, building suspense for half a minute.
A few moments passed in silence as the audience grew tense, but as Jenny the elephant ambled up around a corner and into sight behind the banner, the crowd of VIP guests -- including half the City Council -- cheered. With Gypsy following close behind, she plowed trunk-first through the banner with one the exhibit's slogans written in jungle-print lettering: "Let Elephants Be Elephants."
The $30 million, 11-acre exhibit opens to the public this weekend, with giraffes, lions, impalas and other beasts, but the elephants have been at the center of the hype and the controversy around the new exhibit.
Leppert's remarks vaguely referenced the celebrity-fueled dust-up over Jenny the Elephant's old digs, saying the zoo had clearly made the right call in holding onto the elephant, rather than send her to an out-of-state sanctuary. "The issue as it was framed was not the issue. In fact, what people described as a problem was really an opportunity," Leppert said.
Dallas Zoo Executive Director Gregg Hudson said the exhibit was a realization of a 20-year dream. "17 months ago this was just a drawing on a piece of paper, and for us to be standing here today is just incredible," he said. "Today changes the face of our zoo forever."
For more shots from the new exhibit, check out our sneak peek slide show from three weeks back, shot by Kevin Todora.
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