Future of Texas Zoo in question


For decades now, the Texas Zoo has had its share of financial instability and high turnover of leadership. But that doesn't mean the general public wants to see our hometown zoo go away.

The zoo is a great place for families to take their children, for school trips, and its presence in town invites tourists from all over. It really is a nice little zoo. But we can do better.

Our city pays for about 18 percent of the zoo's operational costs, or $125,000, plus water and sewer service. The zoo, however, survives on donations from various annual fundraisers and longtime local supporters, revenue from admission and memberships.

We want our zoo. But at the same time, we all want the animals and zoo staff to be safe.

The flood that followed Hurricane Harvey earlier this month reminded us of the flood of 1998 and how terrible that situation was for our zoo. Back then, about 75 animals died because of the rising water from the Guadalupe River, and zookeepers fled as waters crept up to the roof where they'd taken refuge.

Our zoo officials promised that would not happen again.

But here we are 19 years later, and Harvey's floodwaters have caused substantial damage to the zoo. Zookeepers again sought refuge on the roof. Nine animals are confirmed dead, and 12 are still missing.

How did we once again endanger the lives of our zookeepers and animals?

Well, the board has seen some turnover, and the zoo does not currently have an executive director.

Because of the damage caused by Harvey, residents are now asking why the zoo hasn't moved out of the floodplain.

Perhaps they don't recall that the zoo was given plenty of land to relocate, yet instead sold the land to stay afloat?

The late Marie O'Connor Sorenson, an animal lover, donated 76 acres to the zoo in April 2004. Zoo directors had hoped to build a new site with modern exhibits and maybe even a water park. But those plans fell through.

In 2009, zoo officials sold the donated land bordered by Southwest Ben Jordan Street, Hand Road and Odem Street. They said staying put on the 6 acres in Riverside Park made financial sense.

We're sure it did, but where is the vision for what the zoo could be?

It sure would be nice if Sorenson's family could someday see her vision realized.

As donations pour into a GoFundMe account, and we've collected more than $18,682 of a $100,000 goal, we should be asking ourselves what can we do to truly save the zoo. The Texas Zoo will flood again.

What we need to do is stop putting a Band-Aid on the problem and figure out how to rebuild the zoo so that it no longer has to scrape by. We should find a way to fund a zoo that will easily meet accreditation standards and one that does not ask zookeepers to risk their lives again. Maybe that means launching a much bigger campaign and looking for a new site to rebuild.

We do need our zoo and should vehemently support all efforts to rebuild, but we must call on its board to not make the same mistakes as the board before them.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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