A new, $9.5 million tiger exhibit is set to open Saturday at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
The Land of the Tiger exhibit will feature five tigers — a pair of rare Sumatran tigers and three Malayan tiger brothers from the Palm Beach Zoo.
Zoo officials say the exhibit is the most significant addition to the facility since the Range of the Jaguar opened in 2004.
"All the things that we did with the jaguar exhibit — the theming, the special views, the underwater viewing, the 'nose-to-nose' experience through glass — we've done for the tiger exhibit," the zoo's executive director Tony Vecchio told The Florida Times-Union (http://bit.ly/1lEApsR ). "But we've also given the animals more freedom and choices as they roam."
Vecchio said the zoo hasn't had its own tigers in more than 20 years. Tigers, he said, have been the most requested animal in the 4 ½ years he's been with the zoo.
"People don't ask if we have them, but where they are," Vecchio said. "''They really are iconic.
The 2.5-acre exhibit is the second phase of the zoo's Asia Precinct expansion, which began in 2009 with the Asian Bamboo gardens and the Komodo Dragon Exhibit.
Construction of the Land of the Tigers began last April, said Dan Maloney, the zoo's deputy director of conservation and education.
In addition to the tigers, the new exhibit will feature three Visayan warty pigs, a pair of babirusa pigs, two Asian small-clawed otters, two wrinkled hornbills and a pair of wreathed hornbills.
There will also be dozens of species of Asian plants in the exhibit.
Bob Chabot, the zoo's director of horticulture and facilities, said the list of plants includes several varieties of bamboo, Japanese blueberry trees, banana trees, ginger plants, ribbon and fan palms, loquats, and grasses and ferns.
The overall goal, he said, is to help provide "a tropical, Southeast Asian feeling to the landscape."
Vecchio said the zoo's next big project will involve "giant reptiles." The exhibit is still in the planning stages, but will likely open next year.