The additions to the Brandywine Zoo's collection underscored the announcement of a $10 million redesign.

On Thursday, the zoo revealed plans for a major overhaul that includes a new rainforest exhibit designed to recreate an Amazon riverbank. The plan features an immersive walk-through experience and will highlight animals native to South America. The new exhibit is also expected to bring a jaguar to the zoo.

"There will be some netting here and there, things like that, but the experience as you walk through is, you will think you're in with all of [the animals] at the same time," said Bill Montgomery, executive director of the Delaware Zoological Society, a nonprofit membership organization that partners with the state to manage the state-owned zoo.

The red pandas, native to China, Tibet and Nepal, were born at the Detroit Zoo last June. The Brandywine Zoo said it will host a coming-out birthday party next month for the sisters, who are still acclimating to their new surroundings. The eagles are already on display.

The zoo is also planning to update the aviary in the back of the zoo where the eagles are housed. Construction is expected to begin this fall to extend an existing bridge overlooking an otter pool into a new elevated viewing area that will skirt an eagle exhibit.

Montgomery said the zoo will launch a capital campaign later this year to begin raising the $10 million.

"With these investments we're making with some of the new animals, all of a sudden [the Brandywine Zoo] becomes one of the best in the region. Folks don't need to drive an hour to Philadelphia ... to have a great day at the zoo," DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara said.  

Monkeys return

Later this summer, tamarin monkeys are expected to return to the Brandywine Zoo, but they won't be housed in the old monkey house. Instead, Zoo Director Gene Peacock said a new exhibit for the monkeys will be built right in the middle of the zoo, where owl and iguana exhibits once stood. Construction is expected to start next month.

Having all of the animals inside the perimeter fence, Peacock said, complies with modern zoo accreditation standards. 

Last summer a huge tree fell on top of the old monkey house and destroyed it. While none of the monkeys were harmed in the accident, some were sent to local and regional zoos, while others were kept on-site but off-exhibit.

"To meet these men and women who just went in, rescued the monkeys and sort of just really came together as a team just did a phenomenal job," Gov. Jack Markell said. "So when you put those kinds of people together with some of the really exciting, new opportunities here at the zoo, it's a great story."

Markell took a walking tour of the zoo in Wilmington yesterday after presenting the zoo's staff with the 2013 Governor's Team Excellence Award.

"We have a lot of great state employees across all of our agencies, and it's a difficult decision every year for the committee that does this award, but I think that this was an award very-much deserved," Markell said. 

Peacock said the monkey house will likely have to be demolished. However, several options are being considered for the site, including a new education building, extra parking or a commemorative plaza. Peacock said the zoo will hold a public hearing before moving forward with plans.

Peacock added this overhaul was always in the zoo's master plan, which was completed in 2007, but the destruction of the monkey house last summer accelerated the zoo's original timeline.

"It was traumatic what happened, it was a major event in the zoo's history, but we put a spin on it," Peacock said. "Instead of letting it get us down, we decided to move forward."

Below you can view the Brandywine Zoo's rainforest design concept: