SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A new animal species is coming to Sioux Falls.  The Great Plains Zoo broke ground Monday on a new $8 million Lion and Meerkat exhibit. What this investment means for the community in tonight’s Your Money Matters.

“A family of lions is called a pride and today I think we all need to take pride in our community,” Great Plains Zoo President & CEO Becky Dewitz said.

City and community leaders from all over Sioux Falls gathered to celebrate this groundbreaking that’s been years in the making.

“It all began in 2018 when the capital campaign started, then through 2019 and 2020 they were doing some really great fundraising, unfortunately with covid, everything stalled,” Dewitz said.

Dewitz came on as CEO at the Great Plains Zoo in the fall of 2020, bringing her own experience adding a lion exhibit to the Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot. Dewitz helped refuel the fundraising effort for the new lion exhibit at the Great Plains Zoo, securing a $1.4 million investment from the City of Sioux Falls and raising another $6.5 million from private donors throughout the community.

“This is a very sought after species, we have not had lions in our zoo since 1993, so 30 years since we’ve had lions and knowing that the community really brought this forward, everyone worked together to make this happen,” Dewitz said. “At over 27,000 square feet this is one of the largest African lion exhibits in our northern climate. So we need to take pride in the fact that we are building a habitat that is going to meet the year long needs of these animals.”

“We have one of the greatest zoos in the region, when people come to our community and think about moving here, and want to stay living here, they look at what there is to do for kids and family and community and this zoo is something we always lift up, it brings people here and keeps people living here,” Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said.

“It means a lot, it’s a great way to learn more about these animals that aren’t native to our state,” Sioux Falls mom and zoo member Angela Hahn said.

Parents like Angela Hahn are excited for not only the new lion exhibit but all of the new editions coming to the Great Plains Zoo.

“We’re excited to get some new animals to look at, the boys, of course, love all of the big cats like the tiger, the snow leopard, we heard about the splash pad coming and we are excited about that,” Hahn said.

Construction on the Splash pad will begin later this fall and will be open to the public by Memorial Day weekend in 2024. The new lion exhibit is also expected to open next year in June.

The zoo also recently announced a new partnership with the Butterfly House and Aquarium. Dewitz expects it will take a few more years before enough funds are raised to bring the Butterfly House & Aquarium at the Great Plains Zoo campus.