Plans for new animals and bigger exhibits are in the works for the Hattiesburg Zoo in 2018.
City Council approved the Hattiesburg Convention Commission's budget for fiscal year 2018, starting October 1, at Tuesday's council meeting. The total budget is expected to be around $4.46 million.
According to the budget, the commission is increasing costs for repairs at the USO Club, Saenger Theater and Hattiesburg Zoo. That includes new structural repairs, maintenance and new security equipment at all locations.
A major project for the Convention Commission is at the Hattiesburg Zoo, budgeting $800,000 to develop a "premier animal exhibit."
"It's very rare for a city our size to have a zoo, so it's wonderful quality of life element, along with being, most importantly, a tourist attraction," said Convention Commission Executive Director Rick Taylor.
Taylor said the animal type is not currently decided, but the zoo is exploring options for animals that would fit in the Africa or Asia areas.
That $800,000 expenditure is in addition to three major projects already underway.
"One is expanding the zoo, moving forward with the African hoofstock barn, which will expand the numbers of animals we can put on the African Veldt," Taylor said.
"We are going to build a new home for servals and for our lemurs and that will open the door for us to look towards hyenas and other larger animals," Taylor said. "We just got through with a discussion where giraffes may be in the near future."
For the first time, the Hattiesburg Zoo made a profit in the last year. Taylor said although it's small, it is still a profit, something only 11% of zoos worldwide have achieved.
"The way that Mr. Kamper set it up when he donated the money for the zoo, all the money has to stay there," said council member Mary Dryden. "So, that means we just continue to make improvements and grow the zoo."
"I'm just thrilled about it, it's wonderful," said Dryden. "It's come a long way since I was a child."
Mayor Toby Barker said when the Convention Commission took over the zoo in 2010, the city was paying $800,000 a year to maintain operations. Now, Mayor Barker said that money can be spent elsewhere.
"Hattiesburg should always strive to be the best and have the best. So, when we can do things that are unique, things that can carve out a niche for us in the Gulf South, we should do that," Barker said. "I look forward to seeing the Convention Center's vision on how do we make the zoo even more of a cultural icon and see it come into fruition."