The Zoological Society of New Jersey, Inc. is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) corporation of the State of New Jersey and the fundraising arm of Turtle Back Zoo. The Society was started in 1973, ten years after the zoo opened but was not incorporated until April 15, 1975. It acts as an advisory body for development, as well as educational and fundraising purposes. Monies raised through memberships, gifts, and grants are used to expand the zoo's animal collection and existing exhibits.
In 1979 The Society began its Adopt-An-Animal program, in which zoo animals are "adopted" for a year for a listed fee. In 1983 it launched its Animals-to-Go program, making it possible to take zoo animals to schools and offsite exhibits. This is run by zoo personnel today.
By the mid-nineties, however, the zoo was in a state of disrepair, and the county was thinking of closing it. The Society spearheaded a campaign to save the zoo, and sent letters to schools throughout Essex County, urging school children to write to county officials, pleading for the repair of the zoo. The county responded to these pleas by making a commitment to keep the zoo open. They repaired fences, planted shrubbery, built walls and paths, and installed a petting zoo. Soon after, the Great Plains and Scottish Highland cattle exhibits were built, and the Society purchased a pair of bison, elk and Scottish Highland cattle for these new exhibits.
In 2000 the County and the Society hired an engineering firm to design the zoo's cat and otter exhibits. Once the exhibits were constructed, using $3.3 million of County money, as well as $60,000 of Society funds, the Society purchased two bobcats, two cougars and two river otters.
The Society also realized it would be an important step for Turtle Back Zoo to link up with other zoos, and so paid for the zoo to become part of ISIS (the International Species Information System), a computerized inventory of more than 60,000 living animals.
Over the years, the Zoological Society has initiated a number of successful fundraising activities. During its Paver program, it sold more that 350 engraved paver stones, which are installed in the zoo's entrance pavilion. Its Adopt-An-Animal program is still going strong, as are its popular Loving Memory and Celebration Critter cards, which sell for only $10 each.
The Wall of Tiles fund raiser program was launched in 2002. Terracotta tiles were sold in different sizes for $150, $250, and $500. Phase I and Phase II were completely sold out and installed on the side of the Otter Exhibit. In 2005 Phase III was started and is currently being sold.
The Society's biggest fundraiser, though, is selling memberships. Among its many benefits, a membership allows unlimited free admittance to Turtle Back Zoo for an entire year.
The Board of Chosen Freeholders voted to spend $2.2 million for zoo improvements and the construction of a veterinary hospital on zoo grounds. The state-of-the-art hospital is now finished.
In 2004 the Society was awarded a $500,000 Green Acres grant for the construction of a Black Bear Exhibit. This was added to the $200,000 the Society raised for the Black Bear Exhibit. The Black Bear exhibit is finished and open to visitors. The bear's names are Jelly and Jam. Please come visit them!