Great Plains Zoo breaks ground on long-awaited lion exhibit
The big cats will return to the Sioux Falls zoo in 2024 after a 30-year absence.
SIOUX FALLS — Lions, yes, tigers and bears, oh my!
Expect to see lions at the Great Plains Zoo within about a year. Work on the new exhibit site began in early April, and a groundbreaking ceremony with zoo officials and a large crowd was held Monday, May 1.
The site is on the far west side of the zoo next to the Roar Cafe, and will join the attraction’s nearby tigers and bears and the more than 500 other animals.
It’s slated to open next summer.
Zoo CEO Becky Dewitz told the crowd it’s been 30 years since lions were at the zoo.
“A family of lions is called a pride,” she said. “And we take pride in our community, board, donors, volunteers and zoo staff to bring the African lions back.”
She said the 27,000-square-foot exhibit area will include two outdoor yards, two day rooms and six bedrooms for the estimated five to six lions that will eventually fill the site.
The exhibit will involve a breeding program for the lions, she said, and will be the largest in a northern climate in the country.
“It’ll be a place from the beginning of life to the end of life,” Dewitz said.
Mayor Paul TenHaken, who also spoke at the ceremony, said planning for the exhibit began as early as 2018.
He said a zoo board member came to his administration and asked for $1.5 million but was told they were also planning to raise $6.8 million through private fundraising.
And the goal was met.
The mayor said it’s the way things are done in the city through collaboration.
He praised Dewitz, her staff, board and donors for getting the project underway.
The exhibit will just add to the zoo’s pleasant surprises for visitors, who really don’t know about all of the animals that call it home when they first visit, according to the mayor.
“When people come to the zoo they are blown away,” he said.
Sioux Falls Development Foundation Board Chairman Steve Kolbeck told the crowd to applause that they were “bringing back the roar of the lions.”
He called the zoo one of the city’s “greatest attractions.”