RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The North Carolina Zoo is bringing another corner of the world to Randolph County.
Leaders broke ground today on a new 10-acre expansion honoring Asia.
The state legislature signed off on $75 million in funding for the project in November.
“We really wanted to bring in tigers, and that’s something our public has asked us for for the longest time, and we looked and said ‘how can we make that happen for them?'” said CEO and Director for the North Carolina Zoo Pat Simmons.
The expansion will feature tigers, Komodo Dragons, otters and alligators.
It will also include classrooms and areas to get up close to some of the animals. Workers say it’s also an opportunity for guests to learn more about conservation.
“The most exciting animal is the warty pig,” said Jennifer Ireland, curator of mammals. “This is a critically endangered animal from the southeastern areas of Asia, and there’s very few left in the wild, so this is going to be a very important conservation species for us.”
The zoo already employs 225 full-time workers and more than 400 in the high season.
They’re ready to take on more with the expansion.
“$184 million in economic activity and investment come from this zoo on an annual basis,” said North Carolina State Senator David Craven.
Randolph County commissioners say they are exploring ideas of putting a convention center and a hotel on site.
Zoo leaders say it’s their dream to make the zoo a multiple-day destination.
“Maybe you get up from your hotel room in the morning, you come and hike then you see the zoo. And then maybe you check out the tigers, go back and have something to eat. It makes it more of an adventure and a close vacation for people,” Simmons said.
The exhibit is set to open in 2026.
Included in the $75 million for the zoo are funds to start planning their next two expansions, bringing in animals from the Amazon and Australia.