Ask someone at the zoo what their favorite animal is and they’ll probably list several.
Boy: “I like the lions.”
Mom: “How ‘bout the gibbons that go ‘wo, wo, wo’?
Boy “I like the gibbons too.”
Even Zoo Director Mary Healy can’t pin down just one favorite.
“I really like the red pandas. But every time I walk by the zebras I think they’re just gorgeous animals.”
Healy’s been the zoo director for 10 years. She says these are challenging times. The zoo is losing $200,000 a year in city support.
“We’ve got about a $5 million budget. So it’s not something that we can just look the other way about. But we’re trying to be careful.”
That means postponing some improvement projects, including plans to widen the sidewalks to give visitors more space. But Healy says she won’t have to reduce staff and she stresses that animal care won’t be compromised. Zoo attendance has been flat this year, but Healy says that’s not bad in a time of recession. She also says revenues are up, partly because of the new carousel they installed this spring. It costs two-bucks to ride one of the 32-hand carved animals.
“Everything from snow leopards, there’s a dung beetle chariot which is very unique – oh, and the carousel drivers get to pick what music they want to play for the day so some days you hear ‘Shake Your Booty.’
Healy says another big draw she’s banking on is a new $2 million giraffe exhibit. Construction crews are building it right now. It’s on tap to open early next year even though the zoo still needs to raise another $200,000 to pay for it.
“We did take a chance starting the giraffe barn when we did and not having all the funding. We took a chance with the carousel. But our board of directors has been very supportive of just kind of going out on the limb and know that in the long run we’ll keep the gates open.”
Healy says other ways they’re looking at keeping the gates open include increasing fees for their summer camps and education programs and holding more fundraising events like the annual Wild Affair dinner and auction coming up in October.