Zoo prepares to add tigers

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Zoo prepares to add tigers

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Published: Feb 15, 2009 – UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.

LSU’s Mike the Tiger and Southern University’s Lacumba will soon have some more four-legged neighbors.

Construction is under way at BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo for the “Realm of the Tiger,” which promises to immerse guests in the sights and sounds of Asia while they watch eight tigers from that part of the world.

One will be a white tiger, which the zoo already owns. That tiger is being kept at an Audubon Nature Institute facility in New Orleans until the new $3.8 million exhibit in Baton Rouge is completed.

Phil Frost, director of the zoo, said the exhibit also will feature a rock garden, a koi pond, a walk-through aviary with exotic birds from Asia and Siamang gibbons, monkeys that live in the rainforests of Malaysia and Sumatra.

Frost said the exhibit, which should be completed by late fall or by the end of the year — depending on the weather — has two main purposes.

“You want to give people the feeling that they are in a part of the world where the tigers live. When you walk in, you are not in Baton Rouge anymore,” Frost said recently.

The second purpose is to raise awareness about endangered tigers and why it’s important to save them.

Frost said there were about 100,000 tigers across Asia in 1900, but that number has fallen to as few as 5,000 today. He also said there are fewer than 500 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.

“They are unique animals and hopefully, it will be a call to action,” Frost said. “People won’t want to save a animal if they don’t know about them or haven’t seen them.”

The money for the project came from a 3.253-mill property tax East Baton Rouge Parish voters approved in 2004, money dedicated to the parish’s Imagine Your Parks program.

The $300,000 seed money for initial planning and design of the tiger exhibit was donated by ExxonMobil, Frost said.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission hired Bassett Associates, an Ohio-based landscape architecture and zoo planning firm that specializes in these kinds of projects.

“Hopefully, this is going to be the start of a redevelopment of the Baton Rouge Zoo,” said Dave Bassett, who designed and planned the exhibit.

“It’s a new type of exhibit and it’s a more natural setting where visitors can be immersed in a certain geographical setting,” Basset said.

The zoo’s previous large cat exhibit was torn down to make way for the new exhibit, Frost said. Prior to the demolition, the zoo relocated its large cats to other zoos.

The former large cat exhibit, Frost said, was based on an outdated zoo model.

“There’s been a change. Before, it was all about the numbers of what you have. A lion, a leopard, a North American cougar, whatever. Now, we want to focus on the right species in the right region,” Frost said.

BREC Superintendent Bill Palmer said he’s very excited about the new exhibit.

“It will be the first thing people see when they walk in at the entrance and the last thing they see when they go out,” he said.

Construction by general contractor Faulk and Meek of Baton Rouge started in December.

Although zoo officials don’t yet know exactly what kind of tigers will be part of the exhibit, zoo curator Sam Winslow is working on that now to make sure the tigers are all from Asia, Frost said.

“It’s going to be a world-class exhibit. It’s certainly the biggest and most ambitious exhibit we’ve had in the zoo’s 39-year history,” Frost said.



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