Nashville Zoo’s president works to turn wildlife park into world-class menagerie

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Nashville Zoo is celebrating 20 years at its Grassmere location on Nolansville Road this year.

News 2’s Anne Holt recently sat down with the man who plans to turn the small wildlife park that started in Joelton into a world class zoo in South Nashville.

Rick Schwartz has been bringing a lot of buzz to the zoo as it enjoys more growth than ever.

Currently there is a new animal hospital under construction and is bringing animals and the world they live in right here to Nashville.

“This is what you would typically see in Indonesia and Sumatra,” he explained. “And because of typhoon, monsoons, everything is elevated there.”

Designing and building naturalistic animal exhibits is Schwartz’s dream job and he’s raised exotic animals since childhood.

“When I was nine-years-old, I got my first exotic animal called a Cody mundy. That thing bit me from one end to the other, but that didn’t discourage me, and by the time I was 14, I got my first cougar and when I was 17, I got my first tiger and it never stopped,” he explained.

Schwartz is now one of the world’s leading authorities on clouded leopards. His passion for saving the endangered species has produced the world’s most prolific breeding center in Thailand.

Here in Nashville he is working on an Andean bear exhibit, which will open next spring. Earlier this year, Mexican Spider Monkeys joined the zoo. A suspension rope leads to the exhibit and offers an engaging experience for visitors, as well as the animals.

For Schwartz, bringing new animals and exhibits to the Nashville Zoo is something he loves doing.

“So this is what makes me happy. Just sitting here and watching people enjoy what we’ve created – that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

White rhinos now also call the zoo home and are kept in the former elephant exhibit.

“For me, it’s a bucket list finally getting rhinoceros at Nashville Zoo,” he said.

Schwartz is heavily involved in every aspect of the zoo’s operation – everything from securing rare species and keeping them safe and health so they thrive at Grassmere to protecting them in their native habitats.

“We need to work in those countries to help people live a better life, so they are not dependent on eating bush meat or killing everything for food,” he told News 2.

With the zoo’s debt strapped years behind him, Schwartz is concentrating on designing the best exhibits in the country.

“The fact that the city is supportive of us and we do have some funding now to really make quality exhibits, this is my dream. My personal goal, when I do retire from this is to walk away from the No. 1 zoo in the country,” he said.

The Nashville Zoo continues to offer unique exhibits. The men’s restroom has a snake exhibit inside and the women’s bathroom will soon have a marmoset monkey exhibit.

The Nashville Zoo is open seven days a week and is located at 3777 Nolensville Pike. Click here for more information.

Click here for more of Anne Holt’s Tennessee stories.