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Weavers donate to zoo

Wayne and Delores Weaver, owners of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, launched a $30 million capital campaign on Wednesday, which includes building America's largest jaguar attraction at the Jacksonville Zoo.

The Weavers presented a $3 million check to the zoo for the 4.5-acre park called Range of the Jaguar by giving the check to a pair of 23-month-old jaguars in front of approximately 50 invited guests during an early evening ceremony. The two jaguars, sisters Salsa and Onca, have been at the Jacksonville Zoo since 2002. During their infancy, Mrs. Weaver participated in their care.

"It is a wonderful experience to help raise these jaguars as cubs and now have them be on the receiving end of this check to build their future home," said Mrs. Weaver, who helped present the check on behalf of the Weaver Family Foundation.

"Over the last several years, Delores and I have come to love Jaguars and they are an important part of our lives," said Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver. "Today marks a different level of their importance. You might even call it a new era for us," he said jokingly, playing off the football team's 2003 motto.

Range of the Jaguar is a unique, neo-tropical attraction featuring the largest collection of Jaguars in North America in addition to an assortment of other Central and South American animals. The citizens of Jacksonville are contributing $10 million to the project through The Better Jacksonville Plan. It will eventually house as many as 12 jaguars.

When Range of the Jaguar opens in March, 2004, guests will encounter 75 other species of animals, including golden lion tamarins, howler monkeys, tapirs, capybaras, giant river otters, anteaters, sloth, turtles and a variety of reptiles, fish and colorful birds.

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"Guests can learn about conservation as well as the jaguars' adaptations and behaviors through interpretive signage located in and around the exhibit," said Dennis Pate, executive director of the zoo. "This will truly be a unique experience and unlike any other exhibit in America."

Pate said animals will be viewed in an environment of crumbling Mayan temple ruins amidst tropical plant environments, waterfalls and pools filled with fish native to South America. Unlike most other cats, Jaguars enjoy swimming. The Range of the Jaguar will have an underwater viewing area to catch glimpses of swimming jaguars, otters and tapirs.

Range of the Jaguar will also include educational areas to allow guests to learn more about the animals. Other educational areas include an outdoor classroom for school groups and a research camp, which will also act as an interactive learning center.

Range of the Jaguar will open in March 2004 with a month-long series of events.

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