KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Snakes, lizards, turtles, and even a sloth are making themselves at home inside the new Clayton Family Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Center *ARC) at Zoo Knoxville.
The 12,000-square-foot facility featuring more than 80 different species is now open. It's the largest project since the zoo opened. It replaces the zoo's small and aging reptile house, where it was sometimes difficult to really appreciate the animals.
"This project has been a dream for thirty years. We’ve been planning and working on it now for at least five or six. Two years of construction, two years of design," said Lisa New, zoo director. "There's been a lot of challenges and roadblocks and even a global pandemic in between."
The ARC spotlights the animals in their unique habitats, with lots of interactive and hands-on experiences for visitors.
"It is definitely everything we hoped and I know that because we had our members preview this weekend and we got to watch thousands of kids and adults go through, to see it in their eyes and to know, to have them able to see the animals that it was a challenge in our old facility, interact with technology, it’s been so inspiring," said New.
Jim Clayton, whose family helped fund the expansion, said resources like this in the community mean everything.
"It adds to economic development, creates jobs, brings people to our city that would never know what a wonderful place to live and work and raise a family that Knoxville is," he said. "Seeing the children, the first time they’ve seen a turtle, the first time they’ve seen a monkey, you never forget that. It’s priceless."
While the attraction is fun to explore with its interactive STEM-focused exhibits and animal habitats to experience, it also boosts the zoo's conservation efforts.
Zoo Knoxville's herpetology department is ranked amount the top in the country for its efforts to save endangered amphibians and reptiles, and Michael Ogle, curator of herpetology, believes the ARC will only help their efforts.
"This is going to put us in the upper echelon of all the zoos in the country. I'm really proud of the team," Ogle said.
"I’m really proud of Zoo Knoxville for its perseverance through hard times and mostly their bold vision. We have a great zoo and it just keeps getting better," said Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.
You can learn more on Zoo Knoxville's website.