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Brights Zoo opens new South American exhibit

Zach Vance • Oct 19, 2018 at 9:45 PM

A little piece of South America can now be found in Jonesborough at Brights Zoo.

On Friday, current Brights Zoo members, employees and local media were invited to get the first glance inside the zoo’s South America Building, which features 19 different species and 46 total animals. Beginning Saturday, the new building will be open to the public during normal zoo hours.

Among the animals found inside include common squirrel monkeys, lowland pacas, porcupines, salt-water aquariums and sloths.

“Getting to this point is the biggest stress-reliever ever,” Zoo Director David Bright said.

“We completed construction about 3.5 weeks ago ... Then we started moving the animals in at that time. We knew we would give the animals two or three weeks to acclimate to the new environment (and) get used to lights going off at night. So we’ve done that. All the animals are doing great and everyone is eating well.”

Bright said every single animal inside the exhibit came directly from Guyana in South America, with the rarest animal featured being the zoo’s tayra, a weasel-like mammal with short legs and a slender frame.

“There are less than 20 of those in the U.S., and just in this building alone, there are three of them,” Bright said.

So why was the South America theme chosen?

Bright said it’s because the zoo has a good working relationship with South American government officials. 

“We work a lot with South America directly. Tony Bright, the owner, does a lot with the South American governments on bringing animals in, and so we knew this would be direction we’d go,” Bright said. 

“South American animals house well. The problem is they have to be warm. They don’t do that well in our climate.”

Last year, the zoo’s sloth could only be exhibited from late June to early October, because nighttime temperatures had to be above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Bright said temperatures this year never reached high enough for the sloth to be put on exhibit, but now the public can see the sloth year-round inside the South American building. 

“Everything is designed to create that natural humidity, that natural temperature so that they thrive,” Bright said. 

Pacas, a small rodent, the red-footed tortoises and the armadillos were all brought in specifically for the South American exhibit. About half of the other species were already in other sections of the zoo.

Bright said the big showpiece of the new exhibit is the Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, a member of the Crocodilia order of reptiles. The caiman’s exhibit features a waterfall and a mixture of a water and land environment.

“We wanted one big showpiece. We looked at a great big aquarium with sting rays and we looked at several other things. We thought the caiman was something we could design, build and bring them in small and let them grow into it,” Bright said.

Zoo staff have worked on constructing the indoor habitat for the past nine months, and since March, he said it’s been a seven-day-a-week project.

The zoo initially considered putting the South American exhibit elsewhere, but last year, a fire burned down a barn where the exhibit now stands.

“This was the barn that burned down. The barn burned down about two days before Christmas, and then it was mid-January before we got clearance to start cleaning everything up,” Bright said.

“We immediately started cleaning, then framed out a brand-new shell and picked the direction we wanted to go. We knew what we wanted to do. We flew out and looked at some other zoos, got some ideas and hit this pretty hard in March.”

Next Saturday, Brights Zoo will host its 10th annual Boo at the Zoo Halloween event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It will feature trick-or-treating, up-close animal exposure, a costume contest and door prizes.

To learn more about Brights Zoo, visit www.brightszoo.com.

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