The North Carolina Zoo can start building its newest exhibit thanks to a boost from the state budget.

The legislature approved $75 million over the next two years to begin construction on the Asia exhibit. It will be the first new continent to be added to the zoo since the North American wing opened in 1994.

The Asia landscape will include such animals as tigers, gibbons and Komodo dragons, all of which are targeted for conservation.

Pat Simmons is director and CEO of the Asheboro facility. She says the exhibit will add new experiences for zoo visitors.

“We're going to be actually displaying tigers in a really fun way, that they'll be literally walking over your head and you'll be walking underneath them,” she says. “And then you can go into the new restaurant area that we're building and you can sit down at a table and you can eat right next to a tiger on the other side of the glass.”

Simmons says the Asia exhibit is planned to open in 2026. That gives enough time for construction of the exhibits and for the animals to get used to their environment.

She says after the Asia wing is opened, the zoo will turn its planning efforts to adding an Australia exhibit with kangaroos and wallabies.

The budget also includes money for the park to upgrade its aging tram system and to expand the zoo's parking lot.

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