The Memphis Zoo will be entering a new era after the completion of its new hippopotamus exhibit, which is set to open in March 2016.
The exhibit is the last major project in the Zoo's 20-year master plan. The Zoo has been redeveloping old exhibits and creating new ones since the late 1980s.
The Zambezi River Hippo Camp will not only provide a new home for the hippos, it will also showcase flamingos, crocodiles, and free-flying birds. The camp's name comes from the Zambezi River, the fourth-longest river in Africa. The exhibit is modeled after a South African fishing village with a coffee plantation.
The Zoo's overall master plan mostly focuses on large-scale immersion exhibits, which is the trend in zoos across the country. Newer exhibits, such as the China exhibit, Teton Trek, Northwest Passage, and the upcoming Zambezi River Hippo Camp are examples of immersion exhibits, which focus on the animals of specific regions.
Immersion exhibits transport the visitor to the animals' natural habitat and provide interaction with the visitor, and the Memphis Zoo's expansions have reflected this, according to Chuck Brady, CEO and president of the Memphis Zoo.
"It's much more engaging and immersive for the visitor to not only see the animals in nice, pleasant environments but also to get the feel like you're walking down the Zambezi River or walking through Teton Park," Brady said. "It's a good theme, and we're going to continue it."
The Zoo also plans to install "beacons" in the future for their smartphone app, where visitors will receive educational notifications on their phones based on where they are in the park.
The Zoo's history with Overton Park has been met with opposition when expanding. When Tetron Trek was being built in 2008, Citizens to Preserve Overton Park opposed the exhibit due to the removal of four acres of the Old Forest within the borders of the Zoo. A raised boardwalk is supposed to protect the natural flora of the ground.
The master plan also includes the smaller project, Chickasaw Bluffs trails, which aims to be low-impact on the Old Forest Arboretum of Overton Park inside the Zoo. The idea is to allow visitors to learn more about the natural culture of the Old Forest, but activists have opposed the idea of charging admission through the Zoo to walk the trails of the natural area.
Parking, a more recent point of contention with activists for Overton Park, was not included in the master plan. Over the past couple of years, activists from a group called Get Off Our Lawn have staged protests over the Zoo allowing its patrons to park on the Greensward at Overton Park. A plan to reconfigure the Zoo's parking lot to handle more cars was dropped last month due to higher-than-expected costs. Solutions for Zoo parking have gone back to the drawing board.
A new 10-year master plan is currently in development and should be finished in about a year and a half.
For more information on the new Zambezi River Hippo Camp, check out The Memphis Flyer News Blog for an in-depth look and a slideshow.