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Jacksonville Zoo moving forward with improvement plans

One of the biggest project in the works, a 330,000 gallon manatee clinic and river.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced last fall a five-year, $50 million campaign that will bring upgrades to animal care, improved educational spaces, and guest experience. 

One of the larger projects is a $20 million manatee rehabilitation center and river for manatees. J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver, Honorary Chairs of the campaign have pledged $3 million towards the project.  

"We'll be able to have rehabbing animals in these habitats that's going to include the areas visible to the guest but also connected directly via Channel to a holding pool," Manatee Conservation Curator, Craig Miller said. "Those habitats that the guest can view will be for example deeper and more varied, right now we just have concrete pools. There will be rock work, it will be more natural, really a better environment for the animals to rehab in so we're so excited about that."

Miller says right now, the zoo can properly care for up to five manatees at a time. 

"We'll be able to handle at least probably three times that number with the new facility. It's exciting in many ways. We look forward to helping more manatees for sure," Miller said. 

As far as a timeline goes, Miller says COVID is still playing a role. 

"Things are backed up, getting surveys, getting supplies, we haven't even gotten supplies yet and we expect that to be a challenge. But things are moving along were still designing and finalizing design we have a workshop coming up here we're moving along full speed on that part," Miller said. 

Miller says ideally they'd like to break ground sometime in 2023 and finish up within a year and a half. 

The manatee river will be the first and last stop at the zoo, becoming the new entrance and exit. 

"Our goal is to really drive home the message, of how important the conservation message is with manatees and really all species all animals. When you protect manatees you're protecting a lot of other species too," Miller said. 

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