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What's new at the zoo

In what amounts to a modern-day re-creation of Noah's feat, Boston's venerable-but-long-neglected Franklin Park Zoo is preparing for the arrival of a unusual collection of animals.

The black crown night herons, ducks, geese, and egrets that flit among the trees in Bird's World and the Bactrian (two-hump) camels, wildebeests, bongo antelopes, zebras, and small mammals that roam on Hoofed Range are only the beginnings of what will be a $25 million restoration of the nearly 70-year-old park designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

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Due for completion in late 1984 or early 1985, the 84-acre ''world class'' facility is part of the ''ongoing renaissance'' in the nation's zoos, says Robert L. Beal, chairman of the board of trustees of the Boston Zoological Society.

What's new at zoos these days is a bigger emphasis on animal education for children and service to surrounding communities, Mr. Beal says.

Franklin Park's $2 million Children's Zoo, due to open next June, will feature animals indigenous to the temperate zone, including snow monkeys and prairie dogs, a New England farm, and a wetlands exhibit. That area will include a 4-H center and an outdoor theater. The park's new resource center, just opened , includes a library, film and lecture hall, exhibit area, and educational demonstration room.

But by far the largest undertaking is a $20 million Tropical Forest Pavilion, a two-acre, ivory colored, tentlike structure that will be home to more than a score of species of native African animals - leopards, Congo (forest) buffalo, bongo antelopes, and varieties of monkeys, snakes, reptiles, and amphibians.

The Tropical Forest Pavilion is the ''newest concept in zoological facilities ,'' Beal says. ''It will provide assimilated natural living quarters almost the same as the real thing in the animals' native habitats,'' he says.

Also in the pavilion will be African birds nesting in the treetops, gorilla families in their ''native habitat,'' and a 2,000-gallon aquarium with African freshwater fish, as well as a miniature hippopotamus and otters. The aquarium will be encircled by an arena at which people can relax, eat, and learn about the wildlife.

Five indigenous African habitats will be simulated - swampland, rain forest, desert, mountainside, and riverbank, each featuring animals naturally at home.

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Ten zoos were operating in other nations before America's first, the Philadelphia Zoo, was founded in 1857. (It opened to the public in 1875.) Franklin Park Zoo, first proposed by architect Olmsted in the late 19th century, did not open until 1914. Through the years Franklin Park, like many other zoos, has faced two problems: the high cost of operation and criticism of the confinement of wild animals.

''Unfortunately during the past 20 years we have almost lost this resource,'' Mr. Beal says. ''And the zoo has been in repair three years.''

Only one facility, the George Robert White Community Resource Center dedicated last month, is entirely open to the public. Most of the animal population is on loan to other zoos until renovation is complete.

Franklin Park Zoo is bordered by ghettos that house much of Boston's black and Hispanic populations, and community leaders have been concerned that the revival plans would get dragged down in racist politics because the nearby residents were mostly nonwhite. The Massachusetts legislature is scheduled to vote on a $7 million financing plan to complete the project.

Zoo officials have long-term plans for an even broader expansion of park facilities, possibly including other pavilions. But that will require further studies and considerably more financing, they say.

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