Little zoo with a big master plan

September 25, 2011


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.

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Maybe they need to do that expansion and make room for Miller, Gearhart, and the city officials that hopefully will be going down shortly. It would be interesting to see how the attendance level might rise if these scoundrels were put on display like the other animals.

Zoo tax?!!? It might happen… Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my bank account!

How many people want a 60 million dollar zoo in Atascadero?

How many people want to be taxed to pay for such a zoo?

How many people want better schools and/or better streets and roads before we spend money on luxuries such as a grandiose zoo?

This we can agree on.

Poor Ruscan, he’s in for a life in hell now and his life expectancy has just been shortened. I can’t go to that awful little zoo anymore. I used to take my kids there but it even depressed them. They need to get rid of the large animals altogether, perhaps by doing that then they can get enough money to at least help the small animals. I don’t get how anyone with a heart can enjoy that zoo, it’s more like a death camp.

Well, I do have to say that the habitat that enclosed the tiger’s did bother me. I always thought it was way too small and I can’t imagine that they were happy. In fact I know they weren’t happy because the male eventually killed the female (or she killed him) and then the second one died a few years later despite all the efforts to diagnose and treat him. I was very dismayed to hear they took in another tiger. I did read that the habitat has been expanded but I haven’t stopped by to see it yet.

The only other habitat that I thought wasn’t appropriate, not that it’s bad but it trades any semblance of an organic environment for concrete and steal. That is the howler monkey cage. It’s good size and they appear institutionalized and comfortable but they deserve so much better.

I think the remainder of the zoo provides reasonable surroundings for the creatures and critters that reside there. They do provide excellent care to the animals. Many sleep on heating pads indoors at night. I’ve seen the monkey’s wrap their arms around the necks of the care takers and cuddle them.

For the most part, I think the zoo does well for what they have to work with and like I said, I heard they did a major improvement to the tigers enclosure. I hear that tigers are solitary so one tiger alone will not be lonely. I would have preferred not to see another tiger in that small zoo but I guess he is a major attraction and they needed him. Let’s hope the new expansion will suit his needs as much as he suits theirs.

The worse stereotypic behavior that I’ve ever seen was that of a bear that they had at that zoo (don’t know if he’s still there). That was the last time that I went there. I had just read on article on stereotypic behavior and by coincidence I witnessed that behaviour soon after at that zoo. The animal is so under stimulated and in such a bad habitat that they do this pacing thing. What this bear did is what the bears in the link below did. That poor bear just paced back in forth over and over and over in the exact same pattern at the exact same speed, he looked like he was in a trance, even worse than in the link that I provided. He paced in the same footsteps so much that there was a little concrete step that his toenail had rubbed a little groove in because his steps were exactly the same over and over. You could see the worn path, it was just horrible. Although the habitat was way to small they could have done things to stimulate him more such as giving him new toys or puzzles. But the enclosure was so small perhaps stimulation wouldn’t have even helped. It had to be one of the saddest things that I’ve ever seen. The bear just had this blank emotionless dead behind the eyes look. The crock enclosure was also disgusting, just a little tiny dirty pool in the back of the zoo with absolutely no space. I wouldn’t mind if they just had birds, snakes, spiders, bugs, perhaps small monkeys but even at that I’m very sceptical about the staff being able to take proper care of those animals. I feel that zoos can be a good thing and serve a good purpose but not these little neighborhood zoos.

I can’t watch your video, your depiction was rather vivid and I feel like I can’t watch that flick again, it’s still playing in my head. If there is something that I’m passionate about , it’s animal’s, I can’t help it, I was born that way. How awful it must have been to watch that poor bear. I would have been furious and complained until they did something to relieve him of all that misery. There are plenty of places to file BIG LOUD complaints about cruelty to animals and that was cruel.

The bear hasn’t been there since at least 2008, which is when I first started visiting while friends with young children were in town. I don’t recall ever seeing him at the zoo and I would surely recall.

The care takers actually are very good. The Director and his primary staff are all educated to greater and lesser degrees in the field of zoology, animal husbandry, endangered/exotic animal care etc, in general. I’ve chatted with some of them and I’ve seen fresh vegetables & fruits of all sorts, grains, fresh grasses and red meats being served, all in abundance. Their enclosures are clean these day’s at least they were always very clean on the 4-5 occasions that I have visited in the last 3 years. Even the parrot pond was surprisingly spotless and big birds are very messy! I think they have probably got better since your last visit.

I hope that you are right Cindy, I hope they have improved in regards to the care and the habitats. I am also an animal lover and seeing that poor bear brought me to tears as well as made me angry. The people that worked there seemed nice enough I just don’t see how they can properly care for the animals on such a small budget and in such a small space. We enjoy going to the San Diego Zoo, there you see the types of habitats and care that large animals should get and even a few of their enclosures have not done well with scrutiny by the experts. Zoos are great for educating kids and preserving endangered species but IMO it has to be done just right. A bear enclosure in a good zoo is almost as large as the entire Atas. zoo.

You’re Right, The enclosures are key and they should not take in large animals .

If I’m not mistaking, the tiger, was born in a zoo. I think he’ll do well but I agree that we have an absolute responsibility to see to it that these animals are comfortable and content in their surroundings or we shouldn’t keep them.

Cute little bugger. I’ll have to get by and see this one.

Hopefully though donations etc. this great little zoo can continue to grow and prosper. It has always been a neat little zoo. Good luck to all.