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Giraffes, zebras and rhinos, oh my! St. Louis Zoo releases safari plans

Somali wild asses, pictured here at the St. Louis Zoo, are among the animals that will be able to roam freely at the new WildCare park in north St. Louis County.
Emily Woodbury
St. Louis Public Radio
Somali wild asses, pictured at the St. Louis Zoo, are among the animals that will be able to roam freely at the new WildCare Park in north St. Louis County.

The newest residents at the newest campus of the St. Louis Zoo won’t live in cages or even enclosures — they will be able to roam around freely on more than 400 acres of land while being observed by visitors.

The zoo released details of the planned WildCare Park on Tuesday morning. The projected $230 million safari-like park project will be home to well-known animals like zebras, giraffes and rhinos, but also lesser-known beasts such as addax, kudu and the Scimitar-horned oryx.

“There are a lot of complexities associated with building a large zoological park like this,” said Jo-Elle Mogerman, St. Louis Zoo WildCare Park director. “We want to do this right so that it’s sustainable for generations to come.”

Visitors to the new park will have several options on how to take in animals and their surroundings, including riding through the park in bus-size vehicles, walking through designated forested areas and even looking out over the park from an 11-story observation tower.

The new park will also have a strong research, conservation and education mission. Many of the species at WildCare will be endangered, and staff will support species recovery programs and population sustainability projects.

“When we selected species, we favored ones that are priorities for the St. Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, which encompasses our field conservation programs,” said Martha Fischer, general curator at the park. “We hope to grow the number of species as time goes on to include birds, reptiles and amphibians.”

The park will also include a “zooseum,” an indoor zoo-museum-science center that will use technology including virtual reality to simulate animal experiences.

Zoo leaders said the money for the expansion will come from donations, a loan and existing revenues and cash reserves. The first animals will arrive next year in a pilot pasture, and the full public opening is slated for 2027.

St. Louis County residents will get free admission to the park in Spanish Lake, as county voters passed a tax increase in 2018 to help fund the zoo.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.