Askham Bryan College in York has applied for a zoo licence to York City Council as it prepares to open the latest addition to its campus in January.
Already, wildlife as diverse as spectacled caiman, hairy armadillos, Californian king snakes, brown trout and iguanas have been introduced to habitats inside the new building.
Real world conditions have been recreated inside the centre - from a Yorkshire river and arid deserts, to a mangrove swamp and a coral reef - to give visiting schoolchildren an in-depth insight into different species.
This week pupils from St Mary’s CE Primary School, Askham Richard near York looked round the centre.
Liz Philip, the college’s executive principal, said: “It is no exaggeration to say this is world class - I know of no other college in the UK with this calibre of educational facility. In due course it will be complemented by the wildlife park which is currently underway.
“We are opening the Centre as a resource to schools and plan to extend this to the general public who will be able to visit outside term time. Conservation is a key focus and we envisage developing wildlife breeding programmes to help boost at-risk species.”
The Centre is designed by David Lazenby of Azureus Design Ltd who has created innovative animal exhibits for wildlife centres and museums across Europe and the USA, including at the Eden Project in Cornwall and The Deep in Hull.
The Centre features a river system with Yorkshire Dales fish species such as brown trout and grayling, a coastal rock pool with native species such as starfish and common prawn, and a Lake Malawi tank with rare and more common species of cichlid.
It also boasts a tropical coral reef system with yellow tang fish, raccoon butterfly fish and clown fish, and among other exhibits, a display of amphibians with rare newts from Lake Urmia in Iran, Amazon milk frogs and poison dart frogs.