Cat Country at Memphis Zoo celebrates 20 years - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Cat Country at Memphis Zoo celebrates 20 years

MEMPHIS, TN - (WMC-TV) – The Memphis Zoo is now ranked among the top Zoos in the country and many say the new roadmap for the zoo was born 20 years ago with the opening of Cat Country.

Opening night for the Commercial Appeal Cat Country was April 17, 1993, the culmination of a fundraising effort that began in the 1980s.

"It was such an exciting time," Director of Animal Programs Matt Thompson said. "I don't know if any native Memphians will remember the whole ‘Free the Cats' campaign. And that really was a big deal. You know, this was the first of our modern, open air exhibits."

Because Cat Country was so state of the art and cutting edge when it opened back in 1993, not much has changed here in that 20 years except for perhaps, the vegetation.

"The exhibit has really held up well," said Memphis Zoo CEO, Chuck Brady. "It's still as exciting as it was when we first opened it. We've changed some of the animals out, but most of the original species are still here.  And it's a tribute to the design work and the effort that went into building it."

"We like to use the word 'immersive.' Because we like for you to walk through and kinda feel like you're in a habitat," Thompson said. "And you might not know what's around the next corner and make it a little mysterious, you know. And to see the cats kind of, you know, interacting with their environment."

"The freedom. The outdoors," Memphis Zoo visitor Darrell Davis said about his favorite part of Cat Country. "You know, it's not congested and you got a lot of room to roam around. They got a lot more to see."

Zoo officials said Cat Country was the first step in more than $77 million of expansion and renovation.

"I think it's safe to say that it was such a success, that it helped us raise the funds for all the subsequent projects: Primate Canyon, China and Once Upon a Farm," Brady said. "So, it's really exceeded all of our expectations."

Now, all effort turns to the next world class exhibit.

"Which will be the new home for our hippos and crocodiles and flamingos," said Brady. "And it's going to be wonderful. You'll be able to see the crocodiles and the hippos both above the water and under the water."

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