SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Giant river otters are coming to the Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park.
As visitors watch them up-close, playing underwater, monkeys will swing through the aerial trail system above.
Santa Ana Zoo manager Ethan Fisher said the endangered species from the Amazon River will put on a great show there, all while educating visitors with its conservation story.
Water contamination and drought affect all living things.
"We wanted to bring these otters here as a focal point where we could talk about that story and relate it to our lives here, and then also to what's going on with them in the wild in South America," Fisher said.
Friday's groundbreaking ceremony was just the first phase of a 20-year master plan estimated at $70 million dollars.
"We're going to be working on our great new education building," said Fisher. "We're making some improvements in the farm area of the zoo and we're looking at, in the future, upgrading where all the monkeys live at the zoo into a beautiful new primate forest."
Funding for the $6.6 million Amazon's Edge Exhibit renovations and expansion came from donations, grants and the city of Santa Ana.
Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said in a city with a lot of concrete, and as densely populated as his, it's critical that government leaders invest in green space.
"We are going to make sure that families in Santa Ana, especially those that find this cost-prohibitive, are still able to come here. We have one day that's designated, I believe a month, for free, for Santa Ana residents and Santa Ana families. We want to see if we can increase that," Sarmiento said.
Construction of the first phase is expected to take 18 months. After that, the animals will need a little time to adjust to their new homes.