Central Florida Zoo hopes to increase attendance by 30% over the next two decades thanks to a $85 million masterplan.
New animal exhibits will be built, others will be expanded and a new entrance is planned. The zoo’s inhabitants will be housed in themed areas according to their native roots – the Americas, Asia or Africa. A Madagascar theme will also be introduced across the wider facility. According to officials speaking to the Orlando Sentinel, the animals at present are mismatched. A one-horned rhino from Asia, for example, lives near a giraffe from Africa.
“We’re a 40-plus-year-old facility, and zoos have changed a lot since then,” says Charles Davis, president of the board of directors. “Zoos are now becoming more educational facilities. We’re making some changes.”
A major part of the plans over the coming years will be to establish the zoo as a “living laboratory.” Around $18 million will be invested in teaching facilities and educational initiatives. Students will be encouraged to research and develop careers such as veterinarians, zoologists, biologists and animal trainers.
Funding the Master Plan
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens was founded in downtown Sanford in the 1930s and moved to its current location in 1975. It has struggled with static attendance in recent years, with less than 1,000 coming through the gate on most days.
The upcoming improvements will be paid for using revenue from visitors, donations, philanthropic support and hopefully government funding. Seminole County already makes a $225,000 annual contribution and leases the zoo its land for a nominal $1 a year.
Only 26 acres of the zoo’s 132-acre site are used for animal exhibits and visitor facilities at present. Yet as the rest is wetlands and cannot be developed, an additional 17 acres has been secured as part of the master plan. This land was purchased by Seminole in 2012 to build a safari park, a project that never came fruition.