ORLANDO, Fla. – You may enjoy the sights and sounds of the animals at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens but may not realize all it takes to operate and maintain.
The Central Florida Zoo has undergone some major changes over the past decade and continues to upgrade its facilities for its animals. But to do that, they rely on attendees and fundraisers.
Walking into the zoo, you’ll notice the Cotton Top Tamarins are near the entrance. It’s a temporary home while the zoo is working on renovating their permanent space.
“It was time for an upgrade, but we also wanted to expand it and make it larger and give them more space and behind-the-scenes elements so they can get out of extreme cold or heat,” said Stephanie Williams, director of the zoo.
Williams has been working at the zoo for about 20 years. There’s been quite a few changes in the past couple decades, including the addition of the children’s splash pad as well as upgrades to animal habitats. There’s more to come.
“The boardwalks here will eventually be replaced with the newer recycled material and we’re excited to be able to start using those instead of the lumber you’re seeing now,” Williams said.
Williams said the weather causes the wood to split and come up, creating an uneven walking space. The new boardwalk will make the route more smooth and accessible for all visitors.
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The Amur leopards are also getting some upgrades to their homes.
“They are part of the species survival plan. There are a few left in the wild,” Williams said.
The plan is to extend the back of their habitat with a larger space and additions to help the endangered species.
“We have the male in here and we’d like to expand the back area. Then we’ll be able to bring the female in here to put them together for breeding and hopefully have offspring to help the species. Having an expanded habitat towards the back will give the leopards a quiet space to hang out away from the people and hopefully a place for the babies to have a quiet space,” Williams said.
Upgrades are great, but it all takes money and time. The zoo constantly makes changes while staying open for patrons and educational programs. Keep in mind, the zoo is a nonprofit that depends on ticket sales and fundraisers to pay for maintenance and upgrades.
“Some projects cost $100,000. The leopard habitat is $400,000 to $500,000, but cost depends on the scope of the project,” Williams said.
One of their biggest fundraisers is the Brews Around the Zoo event held the second Saturday in April every year. The event is for adults only.
“You can come and enjoy craft beer. We have different station throughout the zoo we’ll have wine and seltzer. You’ll be able to purchase food and there’s live music,” Williams said.
The event runs 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. General admission tickets cost $50 and there are VIP and early access tickets available. You must be 21 and up to attend.