JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

It’s become a River City icon over the years, and Thursday, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will celebrate a big milestone.

Its actual 100th anniversary isn’t until this coming May, but zoo staff said it wanted to kick off the new year by kicking off a campaign of centennial celebrations, and it all begins Thursday.

On May 12, 1914, the Jacksonville Zoo was born. It opened in Springfield with the donation of one Red Deer fawn. Eleven years later, the municipal zoo, as it was known then, relocated to the Northside bordering the Trout River.

IMAGES:  Jacksonville Zoo celebrates 100 years

“It’s huge you know, this is just such an important mark for the zoo and you know our 90th was important, our 10-year was important… you know we went through several changes back in 1914 when the zoo started until when it moved to the current location it’s in today and so it’s just wonderful we’ve come so far,” said Lauren Baker, 100th year anniversary coordinator.

And a long way it has come. It started with 37 acres and has since grown to 110 acres.

“Today we have over 1,000 plants, which makes us the largest botanical garden in Northeast Florida and we’ve got over 2,000 animals you know and we represent quite a number of different species, so it’s just wonderful that we’re going to be able to kick off our 100-year anniversary celebration in this way,” said Baker.

To mark this milestone, the zoo is kicking off a 4-month centennial celebration campaign later Thursday morning.

Mayor Alvin Brown will be the keynote speaker of the event. The announcement of several exciting projects over the next few months will follow.

“We are going to be opening our ‘Land of the Tiger’ exhibit which will be a huge event in March of 2014,” said Baker.

Two tigers will live in the zoo’s highly anticipated two and a half acre and of the ‘Land of the Tiger’ attraction. The last time the zoo had tigers was about 15 years ago.

‘Land of the Tiger’ is part of the zoo’s $12 million, 100-year anniversary campaign. In preparation of this celebration, they’re inviting you to share your own memories at the zoo.

You are invited to email your remembrances and pictures to online@jacksonvillezoo.org.