Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo gets a new name and updates as it attempts to move beyond its former controversies


Roaring Rapids at Zoo Tampa - IMAGA VIA ZOO TAMPA AT LOWRY PARK
  • Imaga via Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park
  • Roaring Rapids at Zoo Tampa
After more than 60 years, the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa has a new name, Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park, and with it a new vision for the future.

  • Image via Zoo Tampa | Facebook
The new name helps reflect the community focus of the 63-acre zoo, while also ensuring that the general public knows where it's located. A contemporary, cartoon-like logo of the new name helps showcase the renewed focus on high-quality educational entertainment that Lowry Park’s CEO, Joe Couceiro, envisions.

Couceiro explained, “Our new logo is symbolic of our brand’s evolution during the past two years and our vision for the future. It is representative of our growing commitment to wildlife conservancy, as well as the major role we will play in the heartbeat of Tampa’s future.”

Over the years, the zoo has had plenty of negative publicity, dating back to the mid-1980s when it was called “one of the worst zoos in America” by the Humane Society. After the negative publicity, the zoo raised funds for a $20 million update. The newly remodeled zoo helped make Lowry Park Zoo one of the best smaller zoos in the Southeast, even being ranked in 2004 as the best zoo in the nation for children by Child Magazine.

Then, in 2006, a tiger got loose, and after numerous failed attempts to tranquilize it, the zoo director killed the tiger before it could attack an animal caretaker. After this an organization was formed to advocate on behalf of the animals at the zoo, helping to ensure proper management.

In 2008 another scandal hit the zoo when the zoo director, Lex Salisbury, who had fired that lethal shot in ’06, was caught using zoo funds to help construct buildings at his own for-profit zoological attraction in Lakeland. It was a group of monkeys escaping from the attraction that caused the investigation, which later proved that Salisbury was housing Lowry Park animals at the Lakeland attraction.

The investigation prompted the Association of Zoos and Aquariums suspended the membership of Lowry Park Zoo until it could update policies regarding animal transfers and handling. The suspension only lasted a few months but was a significant blow to the zoo.

By 2015, the zoo had mostly recovered when it brought in the current CEO, Joe Couceiro, who had previously worked at Busch Gardens and was the vice president of marketing for the Chicago Zoological Society. Since then, Couceiro has been busy crafting a new vision for the zoo that helps ensure the mishaps of the past are not repeated.

Couceiro used the renaming event this month to give some details on that new vision. “We are in a time of new beginnings,” Couceiro explained. “From new inspirational encounters and a refreshed look, to a reinforced dedication to education, to Florida wildlife rehabilitation and release programs – every component of the zoo will be touched by this exciting transformation. We are committed to providing our great city with an iconic zoo with a bold vision to motivate guests in taking action to protect and preserve wildlife.”

The area formerly known as the Florida Boardwalk will now be called Florida Wilds and will feature newly imagined habitats for endangered Key deer, Florida black bears and Florida panthers. The updates expand throughout the zoo’s Florida-themed area. The David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center will now be in an area called Florida Waters, which will also feature stingrays and otters. The manatee care center is also getting a major upgrade that will allow the zoo to help more severe cases.

The Key West area will be remodeled to more appropriately reflect the southern tip of the state with colorful displays and island sounds. The Florida area upgrades will be rounded out by the previously announced family water ride, Roaring Springs. This Tidal Wave-like boat ride will feature a three-story kid-friendly drop and unique viewing opportunities into many of the nearby animal habitats. It replaces a popular log flume ride that gave riders up-close views of gators. The new ride provides a larger hourly capacity while also giving riders more animal viewing opportunities.

Altogether the Florida updates represent the largest expansion that the zoo has undergone in a decade.

The upgrades won’t end with the Florida area, though. The zoo confirmed updates to the Asia, Wallaroo and Africa realms, though no timelines on those plans were given.

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