Plan To Make Nashville Zoo A National Contender Calls For Lions, Rhinos And Gorillas

The Nashville Zoo already has an exhibit with elephants and giraffe, added in 2006. The expansion calls for a new 44-acre African exhibit that would include a boat ride between displays. Credit: Amiee Stubbs / Nashville Zoo

The Nashville Zoo already has an exhibit with elephants and giraffe, added in 2006. The expansion calls for a new 44-acre African exhibit that would include a boat ride between displays. Credit: Amiee Stubbs / Nashville Zoo

The Nashville Zoo unveiled ambitious plans Wednesday for a $160-million expansion — effectively doubling the number of animals on display.

Additions include giant otters and spider monkeys. The entrance will be completely redesigned, a zipline is in the works, and a new veterinary hospital are on the drawing board. But what’s being described as the “crown jewel” would be a new 44-acre African exhibit with lions, rhinos and gorillas.

The city is chipping in $10 million toward the expansion, which is expected to happen over the next decade. Standing in front of the elephant display, Mayor Karl Dean said Nashville needs to have a zoo that matches the rest of the city’s growth.

“There is no reason why we can’t have one of the very best zoos in this country,” he said. “It is a natural.”

Dean says the zoo is already the most visited attraction in the city. Attendance has doubled in the last 10 years to more than 800,000.

With the new plans, zoo director Rick Schwartz said he expects annual visits to reach 1.2 million. Coming to the zoo will add an extra day to the trips of tourists, he said, just like it does in cities with the most notable zoos in the U.S.

“If you go for vacation in San Diego, even quite honestly if you hate animals, you go to the San Diego Zoo,” Schwartz said. “And I believe we have that capacity.”

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