The Hattiesburg Zoo will be receiving new animals and activities as a result of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission’s approved budget for the 2018 fiscal year. The Convention Commission also operates the Saenger Theater, the USO Club, the Eureka School Museum and the Oseola McCarty House Museum, all of which will also be receiving increased costs for repairs and maintenance.
According to Executive Director of the Convention Commission Rick Taylor, John Kamper, the former owner of the zoo and park’s land, stated in his deed that any money earned on the land must go back to land. This means that if the zoo makes any excess money at the end of the year, the money must go back to the zoo. Because the zoo made more money than it costs this year, the commission will be able to spend $800,000 on a new “premier exhibit,” featuring an animal from Africa or Asia. One of the animals being considered is a giraffe, but the commission has not yet decided what the exhibit will include.
“One of the things that’s important to us in operating the zoo is understanding what animals are compelling to people in order for them to come to the zoo,” said Taylor. “We have a lot of work to do to figure out what’s the right fit for Hattiesburg. Our space, the long-term costs, if this is a species we want to breed… if so, then what additional space do we have to build? If it’s a giraffe, we have to build a really tall building because you have to bring them in at night and in bad weather. It would have to be a really big barn, and how much does that cost? Those are all the things we will be looking at in determining what the animal will be.”
Although it may be possible a few years in the future, the zoo is unable to get and is therefore not considering rhinos, hippos or penguins. This is due to the extreme costs of the exhibits and consistent care, such as food and health regulation. Elephants are also not being considered because the zoo is too small to meet the regulations for keeping them.
“I hope they save some money and get a penguin exhibit,” said junior Jordan Sanders. “Penguins are my favorite, and I think the money is a good starting point for a penguin savings fund.”
The zoo will be expanding Africa, creating a new space for the lemurs and servals and allowing for new animals such as hyenas. Despite the death of one of the tigers, Taylor says that the zoo probably will not get another tiger, partly because the tiger is male and would have problems with another male or would mate with a female and also because the Sumatran tiger lives in solitary in the wild.
Along with the premier exhibit and expansions to its current continent divisions—Africa, South America and Asia—the zoo will also be creating a new continental section for Australia, which will include wallabies, emus and kunekune pigs.
This October, the commission plans to open a new section called Camp Capybara, a space with fire-pits and room for tents for groups to stay overnight and visit the zoo, and add African porcupines and hornbills to the Africa section. Around the end of October or November, Australia will open, including a wallaby walkthrough that allows visitors to interact with the wallabies. The zoo recently opened cabanas, so that people can rent near the splash pad and watch their children play. Long-term plans for the zoo are to move across the creek on Kamper’s land beyond the 12 acres that the zoo is on currently.
“I’m happy that the zoo is doing well financially and responsibly using the money,” freshman Keegan Strickland said. “I’m beyond happy that it’s getting more capybara related things.”
The Hattiesburg Zoo is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about the zoo, visit its website www.zoohattiesburg.com or contact them at 601-545-4576.