History of a small N.M. zoo

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Alamogordo Daily News
By Karl Anderson, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/07/2007 12:00:00 AM MDT

While the bulk of traffic passes by the Alameda Park Zoo every day on White Sands Boulevard in Alamogordo, most people know little or nothing about its history, said Steven Diehl, director of the zoo.

Charles Eddy founded the zoo in 1898, the same year that the city of Alamogordo was chartered.

“It was first used as an oasis for train passengers while the train was refueling,” Diehl said. “It gave the people who were traveling on the train something to do during the wait.

“Originally there was only a pond with swans and ducks and a few deer to look at. Later, as settlers came to Alamogordo, more animals were added and the zoo grew to the 13-acre park it is today.”

One of the first large animals to be exhibited at the zoo in 1915 was a black bear, which was housed in a very small cage. The bear had been raised by a local resident and was given to the zoo.

“Standards for exhibits back then, were nonexistent,” Diehl said. “The animals comfort was never much of a consideration.”

Today, of course, agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture, along with the Department of Game and Fish, have minimum caging requirements that must be met and maintained by any person or facility that exhibits or breeds native or exotic species of animals. Regular inspections of these facilities are typically unannounced.

People throughout Otero County would frequently give their exotic pets to the zoo, such as raccoons, skunks and birds.

Diehl says he has heard stories about the cattle that had been near the Trinity blast site brought to the zoo for display in 1945.

“I heard that some of the cattle had changed color, a few had turned white on one side or the other,” Diehl said. “I am in hopes that if anyone knows any details about these cattle or might have pictures of them, that they will contact me. We would sure like to display those pictures or any information in our gift store about that piece of history about the zoo.”

“The zoo animals were fed and maintained by city employees in the 60s,” Diehl said. “The food the animals were fed back then was sub-standard.”

In 1969, the zoo acquired a male African lion named Hercules, who was the son of Frazier, a famous lion in California at the time.

“Anyone who was living in Alamogordo knew about Hercules,” Diehl said. “When he roared every morning, he could be heard all the way from the zoo to the base of the mountains.”

In the early 1970s, a zoo board was formed to discuss the future of the zoo, Diehl said. There was talk among the board members about closing the zoo permanently.

“Fortunately, that did not happen,” Diehl said. “Marvin Wiser was appointed as zoo director and his wife, Elaine, became the assistant director.”

There was no fence surrounding the zoo until 1980, which created its own set of problems for the facility.

“Cars of people could drive anywhere in the park,” Diehl said. “They could drive right up to the cages. It was a common occurrence to find broken beer bottles inside animal cages. Even today, we find traces of that kind of thing when we are digging an area out where a new exhibit is going to be built.”

The substantial transient community dwelling in the park was a big problem in the 1970s, according to Diehl.

“Marvin carried a baseball bat with him whenever he was at the zoo,” Diehl said. “It was for protection if he needed it, which he obviously felt might have been a possibility at that time.”

A female African lion named Kitty was acquired in 1973 as a mate for Hercules. Shortly after that, Kitty gave birth to three cubs.

“When I first began working for the zoo in 1987, Hercules, Kitten and one of the cubs, named Babs, were here,” Diehl said. “That same year, Hercules passed away. We buried him near the location of the otter exhibit, but when the otter exhibit went in, the plaque that bears Hercules’ name and information about him ended up being on the backside of the exhibit where it can no longer be viewed by the public.”

The smaller cages which exhibited animals in the past have nearly all been replaced.

“Most of the earlier cages made of chain link were replaced, one at a time, in the 70s and 80s,” Diehl said. “The last of the old cages, which presently house birds, are in the process of being replaced.”

The Alameda Park Zoo was the first zoo established west of the Mississippi River. It also happens to be the smallest zoo to have accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which it received in 1995. The AZA conducts a very thorough inspection of all its accredited facilities every five years.

“They inspect everything from bathrooms to exhibit designs,” Diehl said.

Of the 5,000 public and private exotic animal facilities throughout the United States, only 200 are accredited by the AZA.

“This is a very special distinction for us,” Diehl said.


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