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LA Zoo welcomes influx of rare, exotic animals to new Rainforest of Americas exhibit

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Los Angeles, already one of the nation's most diverse cities, is welcoming a new influx of immigrants, some of them rarely seen in Southern California before.

Dwarf caimans, a giant bird-eating spider and a pair of endangered primates called cotton-top tamarins have been taking up residence at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens in recent weeks, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday (http://lat.ms/1rv6QIF).

They and numerous other rare species from Mexico and Central and South America are part of the zoo's new Rainforest of Americans exhibit, which opens to the public Tuesday.

"Some of these species are unique in the animal kingdom, as well as in zoological facilities," said the zoo's director, John Lewis. "We can't wait to get visitors as excited as we are about them and in preserving their habitat in Mexico, Central and South America."

Zoo officials hope their arrival will boost attendance at the zoo, which has seen its city subsidy dwindle in recent years from $10 million to $263,000. They note that more than half of the zoo's annual visitors have ties to Mexico and Central and South America.

The 2-acre addition includes a forest glen overlooking a stream that empties into a lagoon. There, people will see red-bellied piranhas, freshwater stingrays and river otters as long as 6 feet.

Also taking up residence are two Central American tapirs, large mammals that stand as tall as 4 feet and use their snouts as snorkels when venturing underwater.

Their new $19 million habitat represents the final phase of an ambitious expansion of the Griffith Park-based zoo that's taken place over the past 15 years. It previously included additional habitat for elephants, gorillas, Komodo dragons and other species.

As the zoo's city subsidy has dwindled during those years, the private, non-profit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association has worked to raise the zoo's fundraising profile and to increase annual attendance, which currently stands at about 1.6 million visitors.

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