NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – News 2 was given a first look at new renderings and plans for Nashville Zoo’s African Safari expansion.
President & CEO Rick Schwartz said the idea was inspired by his own real-life African safari, “When you go on this experience, you will feel like you went on an African safari with no visual barriers – really close to animals.”
It’s an immersion many can only dream of undertaking. “Majority of people won’t ever go on safari and have that opportunity, so we wanted to bring that to Nashville,” he said.
The expansion will add 40 acres to the park. Once completed, Nashville Zoo will become the 9th largest in the country at 188 acres.
“I don’t know of any zoo that’s done something quite like this,” Schwartz said while pointing at the renderings. “You’ll enter on the far side where the giraffes are crossing over water. We have some cool concepts for restaurants and restrooms. You’ll see the hippos, cranes, storks, hyenas, cheetahs.”
The list of experiences the exhibit will offer is astounding. There will be a 12-minute boat ride that takes you across the exhibit to see the animals in a different light, a walking path too, a restaurant and lodge with lots of different views, and a chance to feed the giraffes.
But, that’s not all. “There will be a lot of backstage tours. We will also have some glamping tents like you would in Africa, where families can come stay and have a traditional African barbeque and also get tours. It’s going to be a great opportunity for people,” Schwartz said.
There will be five phases of construction for the Africa safari, and depending on funding, it could be five or ten more years before this dream becomes reality.
“We do need funding. This project could be north of 200 million dollars,” he continued, ” It’s one of the larger projects being put on by a zoo, so we need funding.”
However, Nashville Zoo supporters won’t have to wait long to see the start.
“We are actually starting on phase one later this year,” said Schwartz. “Leopards, monkeys, klipspringers, rock hayracks are all part of phase one. And, we hope to open it in spring of 2023.”
He added construction will start this fall. While work is going on behind the scenes, zoogoers’ current tour experience will not be interrupted.
But, they can still keep up with the progress, “We’d like to put a couple ports throughout the zoo, so people can see construction. We will be doing a lot of filming and that will be on our website. We will have tours of the site.”
What’s more? The Nashville Zoo will only be ramping up its conservation efforts with the expansion.
“What I want them to get is the true immersion experience where they feel as if they’ve gone through Africa and understand the challenges these species are facing, and what the Nashville Zoo and individuals can do to help conservation,” Schwartz said. “It’s going to be fascinating for people to see. We really want people leaving the zoo with what they can do better themselves, and what their hometown zoo is doing for conservation worldwide.”
With this big of an expansion the zoo expects a lot more visitors, maybe even more than double, so the zoo will also be building new parking structures.