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A vision for the mountain lion’s future; Plans for city zoo to be discussed at forum tonight

Should the habitat of this mountain lion, the subject of concern of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, be improved? Roswell residents have an opportunity to talk about their vision for the future of the city-owned zoo at a public forum tonight. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The future of the city-owned zoo, a frequent target of a prominent animal rights group in recent years, will be discussed at a public forum tonight.

City officials say that their long-range planning efforts regarding city assets and funding priorities are prompting them to hold the meeting about the Spring River Park and Zoo on East College Boulevard. The city previously held forums this year about housing for the homeless and animal control services.

“This is part of a larger process we are going through,” said city of Roswell Director of Administrative Services Elizabeth Gilbert “We are working to develop a master plan for the zoo, and that could entail a lot of things that we don’t know about because we have to go through the process. So as part of that process, we want to include the citizens and the public to help us make those decisions about the future of zoo.”

She said the city has retained two consulting firms, MRWM Landscape Architects of Albuquerque and Torre Design Consortium Ltd. of New Orleans, to help lead the forum and the development of a master plan. A draft of that document is expected by early 2018.

MRWM Landscape has been in business for 44 years and has worked throughout the state, with an emphasis on recreational projects. Torre Design works primarily on zoo and aquaria projects, and its past clients have included Zoo Atlanta, the Memphis Zoo and Tampa’s Lowry Zoo.

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The zoo, which does not charge admission , and some of its 191 animals from 63 different species have been the subject of online protests and news releases put out by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals during the past two years.

PETA has been circulating complaints about the zoo’s “barren pits” and releasing news alerts, photos and videos of zoo animals to protest what they contend is inadequate treatment of animals, especially of the bears and the mountain lions, which live in concrete enclosures that don’t have natural vegetation but feature deep ravines separating the main area for the animals from the front fences.

The organization also has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has regulatory authority over public zoos, to investigate. In past inspections, the USDA has found mostly minor issues needing correction, although it did recommend more trained staff in a February report and once found that a problem with an enclosure presented a safety issue for the animals. The most recent report issued in August found no non-compliant issues.

In April, PETA made an offer to give the city $10,000 for improvements to the concrete habitat of the two mountain lions if the city would agree in return to release of the two black bears so that PETA could relocate the bears to an animal sanctuary. Actress Ali McGraw, who now lives in northern New Mexico, also wrote to the city urging release of the bears.

City officials declined the PETA offer in August, saying that PETA’s actions would not allow Roswell citizens to have a voice in decisions about the publicly funded zoo.

Gilbert said that the views of the group’s representatives are welcome as long as discussions are kept respectful.

“Hopefully they can participate meaningfully in the process the same as any other citizen,” said Gilbert.

A PETA representative said that the city is well aware of the organization’s views, but it has told its members and supporters in the Roswell area about the forum should they wish to participate.

“There have been several concerned citizens in Roswell and the surrounding area who have reached out to PETA,” said Brittany Peet, director of captive animal enforcement for the PETA Foundation, “including a wildlife veterinarian who is citizen of Roswell and who has spoken out to the City Council previously about her serious animal welfare concerns.”

Peet said the organization will be following the outcomes of the forum and master planning.

“There do need to be significant improvements of the zoo for them to adequately care for the animals that are currently in their custody,” she said. “If the city is willing to take on the responsibility, that is great. If not, then we stand by our previous offer to take over care of the animals.”

The forum will occur 6 p.m. at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, 100 W. 11th St.

The city is also circulating online and paper surveys to solicit feedback about the zoo, which need to be submitted by Oct. 31. Those surveys are available on the city website and at the zoo office at 1306 E. College Blvd., the Roswell Adult and Recreation Center at 807 N. Missouri Ave. and City Hall, 425 N. Richardson Ave.

Senior writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.