Home News Local News Groundbreaking for large cat exhibit slated

Groundbreaking for large cat exhibit slated

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Brett, the cougar, is pictured in his current enclosure at Spring River Zoo and will be getting a groundbreaking of his new exhibit next month. (Alison Penn Photo)

‘Oktobearfest’ raises thousands for Spring River Zoo

Progressing on the masterplan adopted in 2018, the city of Roswell’s Spring River Zoo staff announced that ground will be broken for the mountain lion/large cat exhibit on Nov. 2.

The zoo staff’s progress, new exhibits and plans were discussed at the Zoo Review Committee on Monday evening. City councilors and committee members Angela Moore, Judy Stubbs and Jacob Roebuck were present and no formal action was taken. Councilor Barry Foster was also present.

Project Manager Kevin Dillon said the construction on the large cat exhibit could start in December and take six to eight months to complete. Dillon said it is estimated to be open in “late summer,” contingent on permitting and other circumstances.

“We’re showcasing Brett,” Zoo Superintendent Marge Woods said of the mountain lion. “It’ll be his birthday Nov. 1 and we’re promoting that. We thought it would be fun to do it all at one time, since it’s his 13th birthday and we can break ground and have a big party.”

On Friday, it was announced that new capybaras, the world’s largest rodent, will be a part of the zoo at the new signage unveiling. Senior Zookeeper Andrea Cole said capybaras live well with all other animals and will be in the “river bottom” themed area, which is closest to the parking lot off East College Boulevard.

Councilor Moore asked how soon the capybaras would arrive. Cole said the exhibit will be ready once there is electricity to heat the night houses and when babies are available in the spring.

“… So one of the plans, I wanted to make them ambassador animals for the zoo,” Cole said of the capybaras when Parks Director Jim Burress asked if they are good outreach animals. “A lot of zoos even harness train, especially if you get them as babies. You can do yoga with capybaras — when people get to feed the capybaras and do their yoga. It’s a good way to raise money. They’re a good animal to take into schools. They teach people about — not all rodents look like mice.”

Woods introduced Caitlyn Lenz, the zoo’s new education coordinator, to the committee. Lenz came to Roswell from working at the veterinary clinic at the Albuquerque Biological Park and has a bachelor’s degree in biology. Lenz is from Colorado and has also had three animal keeping internships.

Cole walked the committee through all of the work done at the zoo through a PowerPoint. Cole listed fencing, signage, irrigation, landscaping, holding pens, more boomer balls and other animal enrichment items as some of the new features installed around the zoo. More plans for developments and water features in exhibits were presented.

Going along with the old West theme, Cole said whiskey barrel flower containers and trashcans have been added, and boxes designed to look like dynamite, flour or sugar crates, for kids to look over the coyote fencing will be seen soon.

Recently, covered wagon-style shades were installed near the bison and future mountain lion exhibit. Burress said more shade covers will go up within the next two weeks in another section of the zoo.

Cole said there has also been work on the future elk exhibit and creating more fencing barriers between animals and visitors, as well as more improvements for zookeeper safety.

After Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh broke a tied vote, the Roswell City Council approved the zoo would recover costs at the following rates: 5% for 2020, 5% for 2021, 25% for 2022 and ending at 45% for 2023.

One of the zoo’s methods for adhering to the recently passed cost recovery guidelines is hosting parties in the education room in the zoo office. Cole said the education room was recently repainted and the next phase of improvements would include installing a door, upgrading lighting, adding a new sink, refrigerator, cabinets and a microwave.

The zoo staff worked with the city’s marketing and Public Affairs Department to come up with options and costs for parties in the zoo’s education room. City Manager Joe Neeb said rack cards have been made with pricing options and the city is outreaching through social media for future parties.

Kelly Smith, with Friends of the Spring River Zoo, said the Oktobearfest fundraiser brought 600 people into sample various beer as well as see the zoo on Saturday night. In total, Smith said the Friends’ event brought in $14,000 to give to the city.

The Friends’ next fundraising event is the “Night of the Living Zoo” on Oct. 25-26. The committee members commended and thanked the zoo staff and Friends for their work.

Neeb reminded the committee that the mountain lion being moved to the new location allows for the next phase to take place. This work would be improvements for where the bear and mountain lion are currently housed and he said the original estimate was $1.1 million.

Neeb said discussion would be continued at the next meeting on Nov. 4 about the cost recovery, as well as charging admission and fencing off the entire zoo, including the park and the lake.

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.