Construction begins on the Audubon Zoo's new lion exhibit - FOX 8, WVUE, fox8live.com, weather, app, news, saints

Construction begins on the Audubon Zoo's new lion exhibit

A lion on exhibit at the National Zoo in Washington, DC (John Snell) A lion on exhibit at the National Zoo in Washington, DC (John Snell)
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Children making lifetime memories, scrambling up Monkey Hill at the Audubon Zoo, will add a new one soon: the roar of a lion.

Catty Corner from Monkey Hill, work has begun on the zoo's multi-million dollar lion exhibit.

"People will get to enjoy seeing lions, hearing lions roar again," said Audubon Zoo General Curator and Vice President Joel Hamilton.

While workers have been performing site preparation, visitors will notice the first major difference Monday when they begin tearing up the old bridge leading to Monkey Hill.

Visitors will encounter detours while a temporary bridge is installed over the course of the next few weeks. 

The lions will reside on about three-quarters of an acre, encompassing most of the old African antelope exhibit.

"We're building it so that we're going to have the capacity to breed lions here at Audubon," Hamilton said. 

The new exhibit's focal point will be a replica of an abandoned 1920s-era train station, according to an Audubon Nature Institute Video.

Curators call it a tragic symbol of the transportation system that once spanned lion country and opened the door to habitat loss, poaching and the devastation of Africa's vast natural resources across the continent.

Mock train cars will be repurposed into a depiction of a conservation and research station where Zoo staff will offer animal care and education demonstrations, according to Audubon.

Visitors will take in panoramic views of the site along with places for up-close looks at the lions. 

Audubon has designed the habitat to accommodate multiple lions, though it has not been determined how many animals will reside there.

The exhibit aims to tell the story of a wild population that has crashed, from more than 450,000 in the 1940's to about 20,000 today, according to Audubon curators. 

"Indiscriminate hunting, habitat loss, competition for resources, introduced diseases and persecution of predator species across Africa have contributed to a drastic decline in lion numbers,'' Hamilton said. 

The exhibit comes courtesy a $5 million dollar gift from philanthropists Joy and Boysie Bollinger, inspired by the couple's many trips to Africa.

Curators say the lion's roar should return to the Audubon Zoo sometime in early 2019.

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