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City rejects $10K zoo offer from PETA; Animal rights group threatens news release, meetings planned to explore zoo’s future

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The city of Roswell has turned down a $10,000 donation from an animal rights organization to build a new mountain lion exhibit at the Spring River Park & Zoo, saying a wider overhaul of the zoo is needed after a thorough study.

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation has offered to pay all costs associated with the transfer of two black bears at the Spring River Park & Zoo to a reputable animal sanctuary. PETA says some of the animals at the zoo are going insane, with bears, mountain lions, bobcats and a coyote all repeatedly pacing back and forth in extreme distress and frustration. (Submitted Photo)

In April, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation offered the city, on behalf of an anonymous benefactor, $10,000 to build a new, naturalistic mountain lion exhibit, in exchange for the city releasing the zoo’s two black bears, Sierra and Ursula, to a reputable animal sanctuary. PETA also offered to pay all costs associated with the transfer of the two bears.
“This offer is contingent on the permanent closure of the current pit-style enclosures at Spring River Park & Zoo, and on construction of a mountain lion habitat that includes natural substrate, adequate space, and appropriate furniture and enrichment features — and not a pit- or grotto-style enclosure,” Brittany Peet, PETA’s director of captive animal law enforcement, wrote Mayor Dennis Kintigh on April 13. “The bears will be provided with acres in which to roam in a naturalistic environment, and their physical, psychological, social and behavioral needs will be met for the rest of their lives.”
On April 20, in other correspondence obtained by the Daily Record, City Attorney Aaron Holloman replied to Peet, saying the city needed more time to consider the offer from the world’s largest animal rights organization.
“Thank you for the offer,” Holloman wrote Peet. “At present, we are still considering the offer and how the city can proceed, especially in light of some recent changes to city administration. We will be in contact should we decide to accept or if we have further questions.”

News release

PETA’s patience had apparently worn thin by July, according to a July 28 follow-up letter to Kintigh.
“Unless the city accepts our offer and takes steps to ensure that both the mountain lions and the bears have homes that better suit their needs, we’ll have no choice but to issue a news release spelling out why the offer is being retracted,” wrote Alexandria Frandina-Brown, PETA’s campaigns coordinator. “Life in a decrepit pit is actually no life at all: Bears confined to such enclosures are denied the opportunity to roam, forage and do everything else that’s natural and important to them. Releasing them to a reputable sanctuary would let them experience for the first time the life that they’ve been denied.”
Frandina-Brown requested a response from the city by Aug. 2.
“Surely, you want the public to understand that Roswell takes the bears’ welfare seriously,” she wrote.
Holloman replied to Frandina-Brown on Aug. 2, again saying the city needed more time to consider PETA’s offer.
“If PETA is unable to wait for a more detailed formal response, the city will have to decline the offer,” Holloman wrote. “While a donation to the tentative cougar exhibit is appreciated, there are no council-approved or definitive plans that the construction of the new exhibit will occur in the near future, since such an expansion has become a key part in a more global planning initiative about the future development of the Spring River Park and Zoo.”
Holloman said the city-owned zoo is beloved in the Roswell community, and it is governed by the laws and rules of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“While the zoo infrastructure is aged, it has been subject to ongoing, regular inspections by the USDA and the zoo continues to operate without incident under that supervision,” Holloman wrote. “Our animals have been provided scheduled checkups without incident under that supervision. Our animals have been provided scheduled checkups by certified veterinarians. All have received a clean bill of health. Roswell understands its responsibilities concerning the care and protection of these animals. It is our goal to improve and enhance their lives with us.”

Zoo master plan

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Holloman said city staff would start a public planning process about the future of the city zoo by the end of this year.
“This planning will be to meet our goal of educating the public on this import service,” he wrote. “There will be numerous discussions with the Roswell community about what should be updated at the zoo and how it can be improved.”
Holloman proposed that PETA help fund a zoo study.
“An appropriate study of this valuable asset and service to the community is not free,” he wrote. “The development of a sustainable operation plan that benefits both the animals and the public will be a substantial effort. It would be great if PETA would provide the donation without restriction to help Roswell create an improvement plan that will make the Spring park zoo a viable educational facility to help educate its visitors of the importance these animals play in our ecosystem. Surely, PETA understands that this knowledge may help increase the respect and protect these species for future generations.”
City Manager Joe Neeb said a new cougar exhibit has not been approved or funded by the City Council.
”(PETA) offered an amount of money to go toward a cougar exhibit, but that is just in its infancy,” he said. “It has not even been discussed by the City Council so we’re not even sure if the cougar exhibit meets the vision of what the community needs. So essentially, we declined the offer (last) week because we want to bring the community in to discuss the importance of the asset, what it should be in the future, and create that master plan so that the facility can be enjoyed for generations.”

Public forums

Neeb told the Daily Record that he would announce a series of upcoming public forums to solicit input regarding the zoo’s long-term future and viability.
“What I really want to do with the Spring River Park & Zoo is to remind everybody of the historic asset that we have there,” Neeb said. “So, I believe that this asset is very important to the community of Roswell.”
Neeb said the zoo is a great educational opportunity for children and a great activity for families.
“It is an aged facility. It needs some upkeep and some care with that,” he said. “Currently, the city of Roswell does not have a master plan as to how to do these improvements, and how to create a sustainable exhibit area where generations in the future can actually go and enjoy what everybody remembers that they enjoyed.”
Neeb said the master plan could identify which exhibits are obsolete and in need a complete overhaul, and which exhibits can remain viable with some adjustments.
“I do want to have a lot more comprehensive site plan as to what this facility is, and how we operate it,” he said.
Neeb said the scope of the master plan should include stable funding sources for the zoo, including zoo benefactors and sponsors. The zoo currently has no visitor fees.
“Fees have been discussed,” he said. “Every once in a while, fees get discussed, although I believe that the vision of the facility has always been to allow it to be utilized by all community members, not just the ones that are able to afford it.”
Neeb said public meetings on the zoo are tentatively scheduled to begin, in early October.
“To develop out a master plan, we have to have the vision of where we want to be,” he said. “And then the rest of the plan is how do we go from today to meet that vision. What I’m hoping for, and I’ve always been impressed by the people of Roswell — we have a lot of committed people in the city — by incorporating everybody into this process, we’ll have a strong vision that we’ll move forward and we will have people that will help us get there.”
PETA contends an epidemic of suffering exists at the Spring River Park & Zoo, with obese animals trapped in archaic concrete dungeons that afford no space for them to engage in natural behaviors. PETA says some of the 136 animals at the zoo are going insane, with bears, mountain lions, bobcats and a coyote all repeatedly pacing back and forth in extreme distress and frustration in their cramped concrete pits and tiny cages.
“This generates a lot of emotion because of the relationship between humans and animals in the first place,” Neeb said. “So, it has the potential of doing that, but my responsibility as provided to me by the mayor and City Council is to assure that these services are provided in quality, efficient manner.”
Editor Jeff Tucker may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at editor@rdrnews.com.