New $33M Zoo Miami exhibit focuses on Florida wildlife

SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - The unveiling of a new multimillion-dollar exhibit focusing on Florida wildlife made for an exciting day for visitors at Zoo Miami, Friday.

County and state officials were on hand as Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera pulled down a large black veil to reveal the colorful entrance sign to “Florida: Mission Everglades.”

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The exhibit gives visitors the chance to experience the treasures of an environment found right in South Florida’s backyard. “We love what we understand, and we understand what we’re taught,” said Zoo Miami Communications Director Ron Magill. “That’s the goal of this exhibit, to teach people, without realizing they’re being taught, about the incredible wonders of our natural world.”

The $33 million expansion on four and a half acres had been in the works for years. It features more than 40 species of wildlife native to Florida.

Magill screamed for 7News cameras as he showed just how close the exhibit takes you to some fearsome critters. “There’s a crocodile right there!” he said as he lay inside a narrow glass tube, separated from the large reptile by mere inches.

“He’s enjoying a pumpkin right now,” Magill said as he pointed at a black bear feasting on the hearty snack.

Panthers, bobcats and birds also figure prominently in the exhibit.

And who can forget about otters? The cuddly aquatic mammals swam near a glass wall as they tried to keep up with Magill’s boundless enthusiasm on the other side.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez praised Zoo Miami’s efforts in bringing this exhibit to fruition. “Zoo Miami is really one of those great places,” he said. “It is the largest attraction in South Florida, serving almost a million visitors a year, and with this new exhibit, I know that we’re gonna welcome even more than one million visitors.”

The spaces and exhibits allow visitors to see the environment as if they were taking a trip to the swamp for themselves. “Zoo Miami felt it was very important to provide windows into that world,” said Magill. “People who come to Zoo Miami need to see what they have in their own backyard, and we provided these windows into this incredible variety of wildlife.”

The goal isn’t just a good time. Zoo officials said they want to give visitors an appreciation for the Everglades so that we preserve them forever.

“It’s meant to ignite a passion, creating that type of exhibit that creates an appreciation for that environment,” said Magill. “Hopefully we can save those animals for future generations.”

Brave visitors can also hop on the “Lost Man’s River Ride,” which provides an up close and personal look at the Everglades.

“Florida: Mission Everglades” officially opens to the public on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more details, click here.

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