The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Zoo Needs Funding to Stay Open

The Zoo Northwest Florida in Gulf Breeze is closed permanently.

But a small window of opportunity remains to save the Zoo if a governmental agency, task force or corporation wanted to step in and take over responsibility for The Zoo.

But that window won't be open long.

"We need a long-term commitment," said Robert Switzer, one of three partners of Animal Park, Inc. (API) who own the property. The other partners are Pat Quinn and Dr. Jim Potter.

"The three of us have been the backstop for The Zoo for the last few years. Over a two month period this summer, we put in $300,000 out of our pockets, and now this month we are putting more into the operation of The Zoo. We just cannot do it any more.

"Personally, I feel it is not fair to my family or to my business partners to keep subsidizing The Zoo for the rest of the community."

Switzer announced The Zoo would not re-open at last week's Santa Rosa County South End Tourist Development Council meeting. The TDC Board was

scheduled to discuss whether to give The Zoo $125,000 to help get through the winter. The Escambia County Commission had said it probably would match that amount if Santa Rosa County came up with the money from any county agency.

But Switzer made the closing announcement before any discussion or vote was taken at the TDC meeting.

The Zoo is about $4.5 million in debt.

"Getting the $250,000 to make it through the winter would be like giving money to a crack addict," Switzer told Gulf Breeze News "We need a longterm commitment. Danyelle (Lantz, former Zoo executive director) has been running to the county with hat in hand for the last few years. If the county or community wants a zoo, it needs to commit to fund it like other counties in other states.

"But right now, we are moving ahead with closing down The Zoo and finding homes for the animals."

Switzer would like to see a task force of community leaders from more than one governmental agency join forces to be the backstop for The Zoo.

"I think it would be good if someone from the City of Gulf Breeze joined with someone from the Santa Rosa County Commission as well as someone from Escambia County Commission and members of the two counties' TDC Boards to put together a task force who would want to work with us to keep The Zoo going," Switzer said.

"I have spoken with several corporate sponsors over the past few years that have been interested in backing some part of The Zoo - like paying for the train. But they always want to make sure they have assurances that we are going to be here for the long term.

"When Danyelle and her staff are trying to count pennies to try to pay their employees and feed the animals each month, they cannot worry about expanding The Zoo or thinking about the long-term future," Switzer said.

The moment of truth

The turning point for Switzer came during the last county commission meeting when Lantz asked commissioners for support and suggested that perhaps there could be a special taxing district through an MSTU created by referendum vote of the people in the next election.

"The commissioners refused to even allow the issue to be placed on the ballot," Switzer said. "They said people would probably not want to vote for a tax to support The Zoo. But they did not let the people decide; they decided for them.

"That told me there is no support among our county commissioners now or in the near future for The Zoo."

Last week, Lantz resigned as Executive Director of The Zoo.

Quinn said Animal Park, Inc. is taking steps to find suitable homes for all the animals and still has 21 employees working to take care of the animals inside the park.

"We had 40 employees and laid off all but 21," he said. "We also have a veterinarian on staff that takes care of the animals daily.

"We would like to see the two counties decide they want to have a zoo and get together with an idea or plan and come to us. We would be willing to work with a group like that to save The Zoo, but as of now we are working to place animals, and The Zoo is closed. It is still costing us $70,000 a month to operate the way we are right now, with no funds coming through the door at all now.

"We just don't have the heart or energy to subsidize it anymore."

Quinn has lobbied Santa Rosa County Commissions for more than 10 years, asking them to do something about backing The Zoo.

"It is not just this county commission," he clarified. "Ever since The Zoo became a non-profit organization 10 years ago, I have talked and talked to county commissioners. They have always said there is no money for The Zoo. But they have spent recreation funds and franchise fees to open new parks and put up new playground equipment in those parks for years.

"Not one of those slides in those parks ever generated a tax dollar for the community. But that has been their priority."

What's next for animals?

Quinn has received e-mails and calls from zoos in other states interested in the animals from this zoo.

"We have to find homes for 600 animals. It is not an easy job," he said. "When you move an animal like a gorilla across country, it takes three months of paperwork and a lot of planning. But we are going to do what is proper and not do anything illegal with these animals. We will make sure they are taken care of by people with the correct professional licenses and proper credentials."

Some citizens have asked Quinn if any animals would be euthanized if homes were not found for them.

"We have a veterinarian, and he decides if an animal is too sick to survive and makes a recommendation to euthanize. No animal will be euthanized simply because it is difficult to find a new home for them. If they are sick and suffering, then they will be treated the same as at any time in The Zoo's history," Quinn said.

The animal rights group PETA (People For Ethical Treatment of Animals) voiced concern about a particular baby orangutan. PETA, based in Virginia, received information saying an almost 4-year-old orangutan would be separated from its mother and sent to a wildlife preserve in Connecticut, since that baby had been used as collateral in a loan to The Zoo earlier this year. PETA said baby orangutans usually are not separated from their mothers for at least eight years.

Deborah Leahy of the Chicago PETA office told Gulf Breeze News on Monday that it would be "terribly cruel treatment of that baby to remove it from its mother. She said they had received no word back from The Zoo as to whether the baby was still in Gulf Breeze.

Quinn confirmed that the baby remains with its mother.

"We have not separated the baby from its mom," he assured. "There are lots of rumors going around right now.

Quinn said closing the Zoo is a terribly emotional decision.

"I've had a dream since 1960 to have a zoo right here in this area," he said. "For 25 years, we made it happen.

"Just think of all the kids who won't get to go to a zoo or see some of these animals close up any more if this goes away. This is a heartbreaking decision for me."


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