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San Diego Safari Park Breaks Ground On 5-Acre Tiger Habitat

Sumatran tiger cub Joanne pounced on her sister, Majel, during a play session...

Photo by Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Above: Sumatran tiger cub Joanne pounced on her sister, Majel, during a play session at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Work began today on a five-acre Sumatran tiger habitat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, to be named after movie producer Thomas Tull and his wife, Alba. The exhibit will be named the Tull Family Tiger Trail to man behind the "Dark Knight'' films and other popular movies like "The Hangover'' and "300.''

The Tulls gave a challenge grant in May to San Diego Zoo Global, contingent on securing an additional $2 million from other donors to complete the funding of the $19.6 million project.

While zoo officials did not reveal the size of the grant today, the organization in May announced a $9 million anonymous donation to fund the exhibit. About 5,000 people subsequently made donations to complete the $2 million by October, according to the zoo.

Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Entertainment, and his wife have been major donors to zoo projects in the past and are longtime conservationists. Tull was among those who considered making a bid to purchase the San Diego Padres earlier this year.

"Thomas and Alba are passionate about the conservation of all species, but their love of tigers and their awareness of the big cats' globally declining numbers were the main drivers for their generous gift,'' said Mark Stuart, president of the Foundation for the Zoological Society of San Diego.

"They, and we, were also pleased that we received matching gift donations from park patrons from all corners of the nation to see North America's greatest tiger habitat come to fruition,'' he said.

The Tull Family Tiger Trail will be a forested habitat with close-up views of the felines, three yards with rocks for climbing, ponds for swimming, deadwood trees to use as scratching posts and long grasses for catnaps. The exhibit, scheduled to be completed in spring 2014, will also have a birthing den with an outdoor space.

The area will highlight conservation efforts for the species, of which 350 remain in the wild. Scientists believe the species could be extinct in its native Sumatra by 2020 unless protection measures are taken. The biggest threat to tigers is poachers, who illegally sell their body parts, mostly for folk remedies.

The Safari Park is home to five Sumatran tigers.

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