The Chattanooga Zoo held a ground-breaking ceremony on Tuesday for their new giraffe exhibit, which is part of their African Expansion Plan.

Construction has started to transform the old field house building into the new giraffe barn. This change is part of Phase 1 of their expansion plan, which will bring new animals to the zoo.

Those new animals include giraffes, porcupines, warthogs and lions.

The African Expansion has been in the works for five years. The zoo took time to make sure they could handle the new animals with proper care and space.

The Phase 1 transformation will open up space for giraffes in an outdoor party yard and an indoor barn.

"We're hoping to get this thing completed in the next 9 to 9 and a half months. Now, that is depending on having some decent weather, but fortunately, a lot of it is going to happen in the big building right behind us here, which is actually known as the field house. And so, even if it is raining, we will be able to do work in there, and that's going to be our new giraffe barn," Darde Long, CEO and President of the Chattanooga Zoo, said.

The barn will be state of the art.

"If it is cold in the wintertime and the giraffe can't be outdoors, you can go in the barn and see them," Long added. "So, we are very excited about taking you behind the scenes and letting you get that little glimpse of what it looks like to be a giraffe and live inside and where the keepers take care of them on a day to day basis."         

After the completion of Phase 1, the zoo will be ready to welcome two or three giraffes hopefully by the end of this year.

The giraffes are carefully selected from pre-existing captive breeding programs and not straight from Africa.

"The Species Survival Planning Committee, who manages all kinds of different animals within each species, but specifically the giraffe one, we let them know that we are interested in giraffe. We want to do whatever is best for the species at this time," Long explained.

Once the giraffes arrive, Phase 2 of the African Expansion will include a second larger yard for them and a very exciting feature.
"That might be the most fun that you will ever have at the zoo because the giraffe feeding area is where you can actually buy a lettuce leaf and feed a giraffe," Long stated enthusiastically.          

Zoo patrons are already excited about the giraffes' arrival.

Lillyann Elie, a zoo visitor, admitted that she is looking forward to the giraffes "because they're so tall and cool."

At the end of the expansion, the Chattanooga Zoo will be able to house seven giraffes, and the facilities will provide the option for baby giraffes too.          

The end phase, which will probably take another 5 years, will bring lions to the zoo as well.         

If you want to support this project, Long suggests becoming a friend of the zoo member, which provides you discounts and early information of new zoo activities.

For visiting the zoo even before the giraffes arrive, they are open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at Warner Park in Chattanooga. They have lots of animals to see and with which to interact.