The Future is WILD at ZooTampa: A Look Ahead at Future Expansions cover

The Future is WILD at ZooTampa: A Look Ahead at Future Expansions

If you haven’t experienced the NEW Australia Realm at ZooTampa, you need to add it to your list of things to do with the kids. This most recent expansion as part of the Zoo’s Year of More features a new ride, dry play area, expanded splash pad, outdoor bar, and returning favorites like the Koala Clubhouse playground and Tasmanian Tiger coaster.

The transformations don’t end here. ZooTampa has big plans for the future. We caught up with Scott Rose, ZooTampa’s chief operating officer, to learn more about these plans and their significance to the future of our planet.

One thing we love about ZooTampa is the opportunity to “travel around the world,” especially for those who are unable to travel as far away as Australia. It helps kids realize our world is a much bigger place than just Tampa Bay.

Scott Rose: That’s what the zoo is all about, and that's why we renamed the area “Australia” so that you have a feel for going to the continent. Around the zoo, we have Africa, we have Asia, we have Florida. Our realms are typically themed to a general area of the world featuring animals from that area so kids, families, and even adults can connect with these animals.

Related: Explore the NEW Australia realm at ZooTampa!

The Future is WILD at ZooTampa: A Look Ahead at Future Expansions
Future Manatee Care Center

ZooTampa is more than just a zoo. The work being done here each day is helping to change the world.

Scott Rose: Yes, we are a conservation organization. One of our biggest conservation initiatives is with manatees, and we are in the process of adding two new manatee critical care pools. We have three critical care pools now, in addition to our large rehabilitation pool. ZooTampa is one of only two critical care hospitals in the country.

The new critical care pools will allow us to expand our capacity to take care of sick, injured or orphaned manatees—very important in today's world.

What are the future plans for ZooTampa?

Scott Rose: We've just announced a 25- to 30-year master plan that will transform the zoo, starting with the renovation of our Manatee Rescue area. We talked about the two new critical care pools that we're introducing. Following that, we will renovate the underwater manatee viewing building along with our River Otter habitat. That's scheduled to open in early 2026.

Beyond that, we're looking at the expansion of the zoo. We're working with the city right now on expanding the zoo into Lowry Park to an area where the city maintenance facility currently sits. The zoo wouldn't take up any public access space that exists there today, but just beyond the parcel where the city maintenance facility sits, we'll build a realm for South America and have animals from South America, such as jaguars and giant river otters and harpy eagles. We'll connect the zoo by a pedestrian bridge over North Boulevard.

That's probably in about a 10-year horizon from now. A significant amount of fundraising needs to take place for us to work on that new realm, but we're very excited about that.

The Future is WILD at ZooTampa: A Look Ahead at Future Expansions
Future Otter exhibit

So it’s truly going to take a community effort to make these efforts possible.

Scott Rose: Absolutely. ZooTampa is a not-for-profit organization. In order for us to do all of this and to continue to grow, we need support from donors, we need support from families. We need support from governmental organizations, public funding, and grant funding so that we can continue to do all the good work that the team does with protecting and preserving wildlife.

For those of us who don’t have big budgets, but still want to support the zoo, what can we do as families to contribute?

Scott Rose: First of all, visiting the zoo is supporting us. All of the revenue that comes in through ticket sales or membership sales, food and beverage, and merchandise … all of that goes into our operating budgets, allowing us to continue to grow and do what we do. So [is] visiting the zoo and supporting some of the programs that we have out there like Adopt an Animal and other things that can be found on our website,

What about individuals and organizations that have bigger budgets?

Scott Rose: We have lots of opportunities to donate to the zoo, like sponsoring different habitats or areas. We have fundraisers throughout the course of the year. We just had a fundraiser, Karamu. We've got giving opportunities for all different levels of contributions.

The Future is WILD at ZooTampa: A Look Ahead at Future Expansions
Future South America realm

The connection with the animals goes beyond viewing from behind a fence or glass. ZooTampa offers several Signature Encounters like the new In-Water Stingray Encounter in Stingray Shores and Wallaby Encounter in Australia. Why is it important to offer these experiences to families?

Scott Rose: It helps them to have a greater appreciation for animals and understand the threats that are out there for animals and be able to take action to help protect animals in the wild.

It’s an exciting time for the zoo. So we've got a lot going on and we're pretty excited about rolling it all out and giving guests more reasons to visit and giving guests more reasons to be members.

Those who are new to Tampa Bay may not realize the zoo is also an educational organization.

Scott Rose: We have a Zoo School right here on the property teaching young kids to maybe become future zoologists. We have educational programs and outreach programs that go out to schools and events. We have probably one of the most popular summer camps here. We have programs for underserved communities here providing opportunities to visit the zoo where otherwise they might not able to be able to do that.

All of this is intended to inspire young people to take action to protect and preserve wildlife.

ZooTampa truly is more than just an attraction.

Scott Rose: The zoo is really a community asset and we work hard every day to be a community asset. It's a place where guests can come and connect with wildlife. It's a place where friends and family can come and connect with each other, spending time together in a beautiful environment surrounded by nature. It’s more than a zoo.

The Future is WILD at ZooTampa: A Look Ahead at Future Expansions
Future Africa realm

Originally published in the April 2024 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.