Zoos Want to Fight for Stimulus Funds

Monday, Apr 12, 2010  |  Updated 12:45 PM CDT
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Fifteen year old Hippo Albert opens his mouth for a hippo sized treat in Cologne Zoo, western Germany, on Oct. 2, 2008. At right is six year old Hippo Kavango waiting for his pumpkin. (AP Photo/Roberto Pfeil)

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Zoo directors across Texas who say they cannot understand why their popular facilities are not eligible for federal stimulus money have refused to give up trying to secure funds.

"We are a recreation destination, but we stand heavily on our education and conservation cornerstones too," Fort Worth Zoo director Michael Fouraker told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

About 70 years ago, construction crews used Depression-era stimulus money to build monkey and alligator exhibits, a concession stand and a rock picnic shelter at the Fort Worth Zoo.

In the latest stimulus bill, zoos and aquariums, the vast majority municipally owned or run, have been singled out as ineligible, along with casinos, golf courses and swimming pools.

"We just can't figure out why," said Fouraker.

Nevertheless, Texas zoos are not giving up.

"I don't want to be excluded," said Jim Fleshman, director of the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco. "I would like the opportunity to compete. We want on a level playing field with everybody else. Based on the amount of community projects that zoos do, it would seem like a perfect place to invest funds."

The National Taxpayers Union and some members of Congress have criticized the worthiness of skateboard parks, zoo renovations, horse paths and aquatic centers for federal funds.

Since then, zoo directors and some lobbyists have been circulating among members of Congress to try to convince them that zoos are vital and not politically risky.

The Fort Worth Zoo had initially hoped to use stimulus money to build additional restrooms, repave sidewalks and improve picnic areas, according to Fouraker. The money also could fund conservation-focused internships from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Cameron Park Zoo had hopes to use stimulus money to renovate animal barns and guest restrooms and build a pavilion, said Fleshman.

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