New tiger exhibit breaks ground at Jacksonville Zoo

Weavers contribute $3M toward exhibit set to open next year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Former Jaguars owners Wayne and Delores Weaver are helping out some other big cats -- tigers.

The Weavers are contributing $3 million toward the $9.5 million Land of the Tiger exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, which will open March 2014. There are currently no tigers at the zoo.

The donation is the second the Weavers have made to the zoo. The first was toward the jaguar exhibit.

"We drove up this morning and there were about six school buses there and all the little children that were so excited to be here," Delores Weaver said. "So I'm especially appreciative of the work the zoo does for our kids."

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday. The new exhibit will feature six tigers, a couple of pigs from Asia, otters and hornbills.

DOCUMENT: Tiger rendering site plan

"The zoo is one of our great assets," Wayne Weaver said. "The educational program for our children at the zoo and how much they learn is incredible."

What makes the exhibit unique is that this is the first time animals are going to have the choice and freedom to roam and decide where they want to be. Every two hours, the tigers on the trails will be rotated out with two other tigers from one of the other exhibits that way they are as active as they would be in the wild.

There will also be a swimming pool the big cats can play in.

"I don't think you'll be swimming laps, but you'll see them spending a lot of time in the water, either just sitting there keeping cool or playing with the toys the keepers give them," said Tony Vecchio, the zoo's executive director.

The zoo still needs $4.5 million to complete the tiger exhibit. It also has a goal to reach 1 million visitors when the new exhibit opens.

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