Zoo built on cemetery wants to move a dozen bodies to build exhibit for cougar

A zoo is planning to move around a dozen graves to make way for a new exhibit.

Birmingham Zoo in Alabama, US, as well as the Birmingham Botanical Gardens were built above a cemetery where more than 4,700 people are buried.

The property was known as the Red Mountain Cemetery and Southside Cemetery. Many of the people buried there were laid to rest in unmarked graves between 1888 and 1905.

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Zoo officials now plan to build a new cougar exhibit, Cougar Crossing. The unmarked graves of around 12 to 15 people are within the area earmarked for the new enclosure.

Chris Pfefferkorn, who runs the zoo, said they have applied for a permit from the Alabama Historical Commission and presented a plan to relocate graves on the property.

"We want to treat these people with the respect and dignity that they deserve, and we wanted to know what that process is," he told AL.com.

The new exhibit will house Bob, the zoo’s current bobcat, in addition to a new cougar. It is expected to measure between 15,000 to 20,000 square feet, including a public viewing area and two outdoor habitats.

Officials hope it could open next summer, although the plans are still pending approval from the Alabama Historical Commission.

"We would rebury them as close as we can to where we found them," Pfefferkorn said. "We would reinter them with a ceremony and then a marker to make sure that people know that these folks are resting here in that space."

An archaeologist from the University of Alabama will excavate the site and collect any remains and items discovered, should plans be approved.

Remains would then be placed into new wooden boxes, as specified by the Historical Commission, for reburial.

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