LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The Ellen Trout Zoo is looking at taking on one of its biggest expansion projects in the near future.
The zoo, which is home to around 700 species of mammals, reptiles and birds first opened in 1967. The zoo is now looking to the future and new ways to attract visitors to the facility.
"We are pretty much hemmed in right now by the zoo circle and we would like to explore what our options would be," said Charlotte Henley, the director of educational services. "The master plan will do that for us."
To develop the master plan it will cost an estimated $36,500. The plan is being designed to look at ways of expanding exhibits as well as new eating areas and other ways to bring in guests.
The future expansion could include a new standalone Texas-themed area that would be built on the other side of Ellen Trout Lake.
"That can be part of the master plan," Henley said. "The city has purchased about 20 acres to the north by the water treatment facility. If we do it, we would be able to bring back some of the animals that some of the visitors want to have again like bears and wolves."
Part of the plan would also be to build a new gorilla enclosure next to the hippopotamus exhibit in the African section.
"We have been looking at bringing gorillas to Lufkin for a number of years and that will require the construction of a new facility," Henley said.
The addition of the great ape would add to the 40 animals that the zoo currently houses that are considered endangered or threatened. Henley said the planning and design for the exhibit will cost $18,000 and the total project could be close to an estimated $5 million. Henley said it is a cost the zoo is willing to take on to help out the primate that many conservationists believe could go extinct by 2020.
"So many of these animals are under a tense situation in the wild, and anything we can do to enlighten the public what the plight of these animals is is important," Henley said.
The Lufkin City Council approved allowing the zoo to develop the master plan at Tuesday's meeting. It will be funded by Friends of Ellen Trout Zoo.