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Zoo survey responses show ambivalence and appreciation

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About 195 respondents to a survey about the Spring River Park and Zoo said they would be willing to pay for entry to the zoo, which is now free. Several visitors on Wednesday, including these youth visiting the area from Chicago, said they enjoyed their experience. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Many area residents appear bullish on the city zoo, appreciating it as part of the larger Spring River Park and in favor of infrastructure additions or changes, judging by the responses to a recent city survey.

The survey conducted by the city of Roswell this fall regarding the Spring River Park and Zoo garnered 371 responses, with 200 respondents saying they would recommend the attraction to a friend and 180 saying they would be willing to pay an admission fee of $1 or more to a location that is now free.

The vast majority of the respondents, 296, indicated that they lived in Roswell or nearby cities. Another 69 said they lived in New Mexico.

“Overall, the citizens responded positively to having the zoo, but would like to see it better maintained and updated,” said city of Roswell Director of Administrative Services Elizabeth Gilbert. “Many changes are in process at the zoo and will become more formal once (a master plan) is completed. The responses of the survey will be utilized in the development of the plan and the needs in the future.”

Some of the preliminary results were provided at the Oct. 25 public forum where city staff and representatives of two consulting firms working on the master plan met with the public to talk about what to do with an attraction that brings in about 55,000 people a year but also has received criticism by some animal rights activists. A draft of the master plan is expected by early 2018.

The survey posed 21 questions to determine current usage of the zoo and the park and changes respondents would recommend.

The findings included that most survey takers, 166, visit one to five times a year, but 85 said they visited more than 10 times a year.

The vast majority, 234, use the park and playground at the same time they visit exhibits and 219 said they also use the carousel, train ride or concessions. Most, 231, would not want the zoo to be separated from the park.

The ambivalence people feel about the animal exhibits came through clearly. While 174 considered the animal exhibits the best part of their visit, 149 said animals were the least favorite. In response to a separate question, 63 said they would eliminate animal exhibits altogether.

City staff said at the forum that they thought the latter responses indicated that people were indicating that the animal enclosures and habitats, many of which lack natural vegetation or landscaping features, need to be upgraded.

When asked what additions the zoo needed, 115 respondents said infrastructure. Sixty-seven said animals, 24 said educational offerings and 34 said landscaping.

Asked what they would consider a reasonable fee for the zoo, which costs the city about $840,000 a year to operate, 137 said nothing.

But 195 said they would pay a fee. Of those, 102 respondents said they would pay between $1 and $4, while 78 said $5. Fifteen said they would pay more than $5.

Ramona Chavez is one of the frequent visitors of the animal exhibits. She brings her grandchildren at least three times a week when weather permits and said they enjoy looking at and petting the animals.

“I hope we never lose our zoo. It has been here since I was a kid,” she said.

Estelle Perreria, originally from Hawaii but living in Roswell for a couple of years, said she goes periodically to the zoo.

While she said she has had some concerns about animal health and the public’s treatment of animals in the past, she said she appreciates having a zoo to visit.

Nationally 180 million visitors, including 51 million students, go to zoos each year, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The vast majority are women or mothers, and 66 percent of visitors to zoos are accompanied by children.

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