Little zoo with a big master plan
September 25, 2011
By KARLEE PRAZAK
Atascadero’s Charles Paddock Zoo unveiled Ruscan the red panda to the public on Saturday.
The panda arrived at the zoo 16 months ago, but money problems have kept him out of the public eye. The two-year-old panda will be living in a new, temporary exhibit until a permanent exhibit which is part of the zoo’s new improvement master plan is built.
The new master plan will transform the zoo, which currently operates on approximately $640,000 per year, into a $60 million attraction. The projected plan will take at least 20 years, split into five-year increments, to complete and will turn the current 5 acres into five “biodiversity hot spots,” each featuring various endangered animals, according to zoo director Alan Baker.
“The new master plan will allow for visitors to walk, for example, into the Indo-Burma exhibit where the red panda is and out a ramp to see the tiger (exhibit),” Baker said. “It maximizes space and allows for better teaching.”
The challenge isn’t whether or not the Association of Zoos and Aquariums-certified zoo can conceptualize the project, Baker has worked extensively at zoos in both Sacramento and Syracuse, N.Y., it is where the money will come from.
Brady Cherry, Atascadero’s Director of community services, said the Charles Paddock Zoo has only 25 percent of the $500,000 needed to complete the red panda exhibit.
“It will be a herculean effort to raise the money in a short amount of time, especially in these economic times,” Cherry said. “There is a sense of urgency to get as much done as fast as we can to help the zoo make improvements.”
The money the zoo received so far came from a donation from the estate of the late Thelma Vetter and various fundraising events put on by both the zoo and the Central Coast Zoological Society, a non-profit organization that works closely with the zoo.
Central Coast Zoo Society president Jon Jaeger did not provide the specific amounts collected by the organization for the zoo, but he did say the society is constantly looking for creative and unique ways to bring in money, such as partnering with the Atascadero Wine Festival to donate proceeds to the zoo.
Donations to the zoo society include $10,000 from the wine festival, one $500 from Wal-Mart, $37,500 from the Hind Foundation and the $100,000 from the Vetter estate.
As far raising money in the future, Jaeger said the society now focuses mainly on handling donations to the zoo and does not have funds to donate on its own.
“We don’t have the capital funds,” he said. “(And) we don’t have the manpower to do any large fundraisers.”
Therefore, the zoo relies mainly on an allotted “support fee” from the city.
According to Cherry, the zoo’s projected revenue for 2011 to 2010 is $238,000. The other $400,000 in operating costs is subsidized by the city from their $17.6 million budget.
Of the current operating fees, $499,070 goes toward paying five full-time staff.
Although Baker did not specify the exact number of staff, or a staff budget, required to run the zoo once the master plan is completed, he said more than 100 new animals and various new structures will be added to zoo exhibits, which will translate into a need for more staff as operations change.
These long-term finances are something Cherry said he, personally, was concerned about.
“I know current resources will be thin in our ability to support the zoo,” he said. “That’s why we are looking to the community and to the Zoo Society.”
To remedy this, Jaeger said the Central Coast Zoo Society is conducting a county-wide assessment through a third party to find the favorability of the surrounding communities toward supporting the zoo.
The potential tax is still a “theoretical idea” with boundaries that have yet to be set due to the attendance pattern, Jaeger said. “The current annual attendance is approximately 60,000 and comes mainly from within Atascadero and neighboring cities.”
Cherry added that, when compared to the same period in 2010, there has been a positive trend in zoo attendance. He said the hope is that the improvements made to the zoo will continue this trend to bring in more visitors, which translates into selling more $5 tickets (the adult price).
The main concern is, ultimately, maintaining animal safety throughout the improvement process and staying true to the goal of the Charles Paddock Zoo, which caters to educating the public about conserving endangered species and other wildlife, Cherry said.
This is why the five final biodiversity hot spots will feature various endangered species, such as the red panda. The hot spots are drawn from all over the world and include: Indo-Burma, the Tropical Andes, Guinean Forests of West Africa, Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands and the California Floristic Provence.