Having a zoological network encompassing China, Japan, Taiwan, South Africa, Mauritius, Caribbean, and United States, I can safely say the attention Spring River Park Zoo faces via NGO’s is universal. Keep in mind NGO organizations are not governmental bodies, they do not represent the USDA, APHIS, AZA, AAZPA, IMATA, or AMMPA.
It is no surprise they are knocking on Roswell’s door, it’s happening all across America. Small zoos & aquariums are either unable or unwilling to maintain industry standards expected in modern zoos. Is Spring River Park Zoo outdated, yes. The days where exhibits were constructed of concrete and steel bars has long past. Exhibits in the modern zoo focus on replicating naturalistic animal habitats with educational components, graphics and signage.
First course of action has been implemented with the city asking residents to comment on zoo future developments, city officials are to be commended for this strategy, regardless of legal ownership, zoos belong to their public.
Next step is to take a hard look at annual operating budgets, compare these with annual operating expenses to include animal husbandry, animal management, veterinary care, nutritional diets, animal care technicians, exhibit maintenance, vehicle maintenance, capital improvements, and so on. These two numbers seldom match.
A difficulty maintaining zoological collections regardless if privately or city owned, for- profit, or non-profit is the unavoidable inherent fixed costs, the animals must be fed.
If the decision is to give the zoo a major overhaul, which it needs in many ways, to produce a “New Zoo” then an important question must be asked “what would we like to accomplish.” Once this is defined the rest of the process will fall into place but this is a long term phase project taking years.
The problems facing Spring River are opportunity for solutions. Move into the future with a “New Zoo” or maintain the status quo and become a constant target for NGO’s, this month it’s bears, next month it’s lemurs, then raptors, it will never end.
Assemble a group of like minded professionals experienced in exhibit design, project development, animal husbandry & maintenance, with first hand knowledge of daily zoo operations, SSP and ISIS programs.
It is unwise to appoint an administrator as director, these know little of zoo operations. They’ve never restrained an animal or witnessed one die while attempting to save its life. They’ve never been slammed against a fence or run out of a pen for fear of their life. They’ve never made morning rounds in freezing rain to inspect exhibits. Extreme heat, heavy rains, high winds, freezing weather, wet and cold, hail, and snow, this is the work environment of a zookeeper, this is their office.
An exciting opportunity awaits the city demanding vision, passion, and yes funding. Spring River Park & Zoo can be a first class zoological institution, achieve industry accreditation, and become the educational gem of the Southwest. A place for young and old alike to learn. The animals are the real winners.
Robert W. Eiser is a master falconer and international zoological consultant. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.