Bright future ahead for the Niabi Zoo


COAL VALLEY, Ill. (KWQC) – Niabi Zoo Director Lee Jackson got the chance to outline his plans for the future of the zoo during a Rock Island County Forest Preserve Commission meeting Tuesday night.

Despite some ups and downs over the last few years, he says things are moving in the right direction for the Quad Cities attraction.

“It’s a really exciting time for us and a really exciting time for the people of the Quad Cities,” Jackson said. “We have some great plans, some new exhibits that are going to be opening next spring when we reopen the zoo again.”

Tuesday night, he presented his short-term plans for the zoo, like a new ocean’s exhibit.

“We’re going to have things like a corals, coral reef fish, Pacific giant octopus, things that have never been exhibited in the Quad Cities before,” he said. “We’re also acquiring a pair of Aldabra tortoises.”

Long-term, Jackson hopes to bring flamingos, prairie dogs, and African penguins to the area.

“They’re going to see animals that in the past they had to go all the way to Chicago to see or beyond and we want to keep doing that, we want to keep bringing new and exciting things here,” Jackson said.

Jackson says they are now back up to full staff, after five of 10 animal handlers resigned last month.

“They’ll be starting as early as next week, and we have one more gentleman who will be leaving by the end of this month, and we are interviewing for that position right now,” Jackson said. “We’ve gotten some really quality people coming in.”

Some members of the commission say they’re excited to see what’s next.

“With Lee Jackson in place, with this plan in place, with the vision coming into focus, the best role for us is to support the professional leadership moving forward and building on the considerable strengths of the Niabi Zoo,” Kai Swanson, a member of the Rock Island County Forest Preserve Commission said.

Jackson says the future is looking bright for the zoo, and he is excited to be a part of it.

“Niabi is on a path for growth and expansion and we’re really excited about the way things are moving,” Jackson said. “It’s going to start slow, but as we build up steam and momentum, you’re going to see lots of great things happen.”

The tortoises are expected to arrive at the zoo next week and will spend 30 days in quarantine before they make their debut in the spring.

Jackson says it is also a part of his plan to fix up some of the existing exhibit buildings. He says he also has plans drawn up to expand the zoo’s restaurant and shop.

The Niabi Zoo closes for the season on Oct. 30.

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