Brevard Zoo officials plan to open a lion exhibit in 2021, featuring the popular predators as a high-profile showpiece of the Expedition Africa loop.
"One of the real tragedies in Africa the last few years is, we've realized we've lost 50% of our lion population. That is a major issue," said Keith Winsten, executive director.
"People in this community have often said, 'We'd love to see lions, tigers and bears.' We added a black bear facility this past year because there's really a need in Florida to hold black bears that get into trouble with people and we see there's a really strong need for lions."
Winsten said the lion exhibit will likely house a bachelor group of males — perhaps two or three brothers. Brevard Zoo will participate in the Association of Zoos & Aquarium's African lion species survival breeding program.
"Obviously, our climate is wonderful for them. We'll provide wonderful viewing for the public. We'll provide a wonderful experience for the lions and give them diversity to make sure they have really rewarding lives," he said.
Brevard County Tourist Development Tax hotel bed tax revenues will finance the lion exhibit, Winsten said. Zoo officials will also apply for a state grant.
Additional details on the lion exhibit will be released in the coming months, Winsten said. The new exhibit will spark improvements to Expedition Africa — which dead-ends, triggering pedestrian flow issues.
Brevard Zoo's Quarters for Conservation program has generated more than $70,000 for big cat conservation during the past decade.
The 5,000-square-foot black bear exhibit opened in April in the Wild Florida loop. The bear, a 2-year-old female, was removed from the wild after a Tallahassee-area woman had been feeding her dog food and water — prompting a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigation.
The La Selva loop's Rainforest Revealed makeover — the biggest in the zoo's 25-year history — will open Nov. 16, Winsten said. In tandem, zoo officials are working on parking, restroom and food service upgrades.
Off-site, Winsten said "the 400-pound grouper on our radar screen" is the zoo's proposed $70 million aquarium project at Port Canaveral.
Zoo officials will concentrate on fundraising over the next couple of years for the aquarium, which is projected to attract 525,000 to 690,000 visitors per year.