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After extensive planning and 20 months of construction, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is proud to announce the opening of the most ambitious expansion in its history, Sanctuary Asia, on Friday, September 28. Outlined in the Zoo’s strategic plan in 2010, the new $22 million, 6.6-acre habitat is a spacious, multi-purpose environment where endangered animals from Asia receive world-class care in state-of-the-art habitats, and where more than a million annual visitors will engage with wildlife like never before. 

Sanctuary Asia encompasses the elephant pavilion and habitat built in 2010, now totaling 14.5 acres for the OKC Zoo’s Asian elephants, Indian rhinos, Komodo dragons and red pandas. Plus, space for animals new to the Zoo including a troop of Francois’ langurs, several tanuki (also known as raccoon dogs), cassowaries and Burmese Black Mountain tortoises.

“Not only is Sanctuary Asia a major step toward fulfilling a bold vision for the future of the Oklahoma City Zoo, but it also shines a light on species native to Asia, where rampant habitat loss, illegal wildlife trafficking and human-animal conflict are conspiring to bring many species to the brink of extinction,” said Dwight Lawson, executive director and CEO, Oklahoma City Zoo. “Conservation and education are central to our mission and both were at front-of-mind in the planning and execution of this new habitat. Our goal is for Sanctuary Asia to inspire, motivate and empower guests to make decisions that will protect wildlife and wild places.”

The design of each animal habitat allows exceptional protection for and care of these species while also providing guests with fantastic viewpoints to the wildlife. Elephants and rhinos can now shift between five unique habitats, providing additional enrichment for the animals and stunning views for visitors. A new training wall and feeding windows provide Zoo caretakers and visitors with innovative ways to engage with the animals. Brand new homes for red pandas, langurs and Komodo dragons feature both outdoor and indoor spaces viewable to visitors regardless of the weather.  

Central to Sanctuary Asia is Lotus Pavilion, a vast two-level restaurant and event venue with floor-to-ceiling windows seamlessly uniting animal habitats with guests, providing stunning views into animal habitats across the Zoo’s 140-acres. In addition to providing daily food service, including unique menu items unavailable elsewhere at the Zoo, Lotus Pavilion allows guests to dine while watching rhinos, elephants and Komodo dragons. The space is also designed to accommodate special events during the day or evening hours.   

In the courtyard outside the entrance to Lotus Pavilion, guests will be able to walk through a series of water fountains emerging from the ground, flanked by raised lotus ponds, providing a much-needed respite from the Oklahoma heat. Inspired by the lush landscape found throughout Asia, the botanical collections featured in Sanctuary Asia include drought-resistant and cold hardy plant species native to Oklahoma. Another visual element of the expansion are thousands of colorful conservation prayer flags made in Nepal exclusively for the Zoo.  Each hand-made flag features an endangered or threatened animal species native to Asia and included in the Zoo’s new expansion.

The architect for Sanctuary Asia was Torre Design Consortium based in New Orleans, Louisiana. The contractor who brought the space to life was Oklahoma City-based Timberlake Construction. Funding for the expansion was secured through a 1/8-of-a-cent sales tax accrual, approved by Oklahoma City citizens in 1990.

Find your sanctuary at Oklahoma City Zoo’s newest habitat, Sanctuary Asia! Located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35, the Oklahoma City Zoo is an Adventure Road partner and a member of Oklahoma City’s Adventure District. The Zoo proudly holds accreditations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the American Association of Museums. Guests are welcome daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. with exhibit buildings closing at 4:45 p.m. Stay connected to the world of wild! Find the Zoo on FacebookInstagram, Twitter and visit Our Stories. Zoo fans can support the OKC Zoo by becoming Oklahoma Zoological Society members at or in-person at the Zoo!  To learn more, call (405) 424-3344 or visit


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