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Zoo Society continues to target growth

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Todd Cohen

ASHEBORO, N.C. — After wrapping up several big efforts in 2007 to raise money to fund projects at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, the North Carolina Zoological Society is gearing up to launch several more.

The Zoo Society, the private-support organization for the Zoo, has transferred over $10 million to the Zoo over the past two years, reflecting over five years of successful fundraising, says Russ Williams, the society’s executive director.

Last year, the Zoo Society netted over $2.8 million, including just over $500,000 in the final stage of a capital campaign that raised a total of $7.2 million to improve and expand the Zoo’s exhibit for African elephants and southern white rhinos.

The herds in the exhibit have grown to nine white rhinos and seven African elephants from three white rhinos and three African elephants a year ago.

Critical for the expansion of the elephant herd has been a new barn that includes a heated floor, a nursery, a community room and a shower the elephants can activate using their trunks.

“Elephants are really social animals,” says Williams. “The future breeding and raising of elephants depends on having a social grouping.”

The Zoo Society last year also netted $387,000 from its two gift shops, and generated $1.57 million in restricted giving, including anonymous gifts of $200,000 for a geyser fountain in the Great Plains portion of its North American continent, and $150,000 for an “immersion walkway” between its rhino and elephant exhibits.

The Zoo Society also completed a $1.5 million campaign, including two gifts totaling over $300,000, for its Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck.

And to a greater extent than it has in decades, the Zoo Society last year lobbied actively for state funding for the Zoo.

For the previous 15 years, Williams says, state lawmakers had not approved any funds for new capital projects at the Zoo.

Last year, lawmakers approved $3,456,000 for the Zoo, including over $3 million for barns needed to help triple the antelope herd to 150 animals.

The Zoo Society will continue to play an important lobbying role, Williams says.

The group’s board in January approved moving ahead with three new projects, including efforts by the Zoo to become a breeding center for polar bears, to develop an outdoor children’s nature zoo, and to replace and expand its African pavilion with a smaller structure surrounded by outdoor exhibits.

The polar-bear project and children’s zoo each would cost over $4 million, and the African project would cost $25 million, Williams says.

The Zoo Society’s board agreed to commit $4 million combined for the polar-bear and children’s projects, and to seek $6 million this year from state lawmakers, including $1 million to plan the expansion of the African exhibit.

It also agreed to seek state funding for half the construction cost of the African exhibit, and to provide the other half by matching on a dollar-for-dollar basis the funds the state provides, Williams says.

With funding from the Zoo Society, he says, designs already have been developed for the children’s zoo, and conceptual designs already are being developed for the polar-bear expansion, which could begin as soon as funding is available.

The African pavilion likely would be phased in, Williams says, with the Zoo Society seeking state funding over several two-year state budget cycles.

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