Jacksonville Zoo's tiger exhibit opens Saturday

Ribbon cutting ceremony at Jax Zoo starting at 10 a.m. Saturday

By Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter , Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A new $9.5 million tiger exhibit is set to open at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

The Land of the Tiger exhibit opens at 10 a.m. Saturday with a ribbon cutting and will feature five tigers.

Zoo officials say the exhibit is the most significant addition to the facility since the Range of the Jaguar opened in 2004.

IMAGES:  Inside 'Land of the Tiger'

"This is the first time that the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has purposefully built and purposely designed an area for tigers," said Dan Maloney, director of conservation and education for the zoo.

The zoo's executive director, Tony Vecchio, said the facility hasn't had its own tigers in more than 20 years. He said they've been the most requested animal in the four and a half years he's been with the zoo.

The 2.5-acre exhibit is the second phase of the zoo's Asia Precinct expansion. It will include a pair of rare and endangered Sumatran tigers and three endangered Malayan tigers, which were transferred from the Palm Beach Zoo. The tigers can weigh up to about 400 pounds.

Several trails have been built throughout the exhibit to get people up close and personal with the furry felines.

"It also gives the the tigers choice of freedom that they can't experience in any other zoo enclosure anywhere," Maloney said.

Because tigers are an endangered species, animal enthusiasts hope the new attraction will educate the experienced and inexperienced visitors.

"It's really neat and big, and also one of my best friends really likes tigers, so I bet she'll be pretty happy about this," visitor Celia White said.

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