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Zoo Society raising more, turning it over

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By Todd Cohen

ASHEBORO, N.C. — 2006 was a good year for the North Carolina Zoological Society.

Net income for the fundraising arm of the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro totaled $4.1 million, making it the group’s second-most-successful year ever, and the group also turned $5 million over to the Zoo, the most ever.

Just over half the funds given to the Zoo will support improvements and expansion of its exhibits for African elephants and southern white rhinos.

Another $1 million will support development of conservation and education programs and facilities at Sylvan Heights Waterfowl in Scotland Neck.

The Zoo Society already has raised $6.9 million in a capital campaign for the pachyderm exhibit and now expects to raise a total of $7 million to $7.5 million, up from its initial goal of $6 million.

In addition to those private dollars, state lawmakers have agreed to provide up to $1.5 million to cover the full cost of the renovations, says Russ Williams, executive director of the Zoo Society.

The group increased the goal for the pachyderm campaign to cover additional costs to acquire more elephants and rhinos, landscape and change a 30-acre plain that will serve as home to the animals, and renovate and build new structures to house them.

The elephant herd will grow to 7 from 3 by early 2008 through acquisitions, and then to 10 to 12 through breeding.

The rhino herd will triple this spring, to nine, and eventually increase to 10 to 12 through breeding.

The largest gift to the campaign has been $2 million from Randolph Friends of the Zoo, which raised the money through its annual dinner dances and auction.

The Zoo Society also plans this year to raise another $300,000 to support the second phase of the Sylvan Heights project, which already has received $1.5 million.

Sylvan Heights, initially supported by the Bronx Zoo and for the past 10 years or so by the North Carolina Zoo, has served as a holding and breeding facility for waterfowl for zoos and aquariums throughout North America.

Now, Sylvan Heights plans to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit and expand its mission by becoming a waterfowl park and eco center, Williams says.

Plans for the new center include a $300,000 educational tree-house complex that will feature a migratory bird identification station from which young people can see migratory birds in a Tar River wetlands area nearby, and an amphitheater for students and teachers on school field-trips, as well as other visitors.

The Zoo Society also is halfway to its goal of raising $160,000 for a new bee exhibit being developed at the Zoo in partnership with the North Carolina Beekeepers Association.

And it plans to enlist its board, staff and members in an effort to persuade state lawmakers to spend roughly $4.25 million for a children’s nature discovery center.

With 22,000 member households, or over 60,000 individual members, the Zoo Society also generates funds from membership donations, as well as sales from two stores it operates at the Zoo; income from investment of its $7 million-asset endowment, known as The Lion’s Pride Fund; annual giving; and its annual dinner dance and auction.

“We’re a society of members in support of the Zoo,” Williams says. “One thing we’re doing is helping the Zoo get state funding for a children’s nature discovery center.”

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