Mich. children’s zoo with bobcat, serval opens for season

Saturday, April 07, 2007
JANET I. MARTINEAU
THE SAGINAW NEWS

Along about this time of year, 130 Saginaw residents are feeling kinda lonely.

“They miss the people,” says Nancy J. Parker, the executive director of the Children’s Zoo at Celebration Square, of her kangaroos, penguins, sheep, wolves, prairie dogs, bobcat, monkeys and others; 58 species in all, minus the assorted insects, which show no emotion.

“They’ve become very comfortable and used to having people around them, looking at them and talking to them. It’s fun to watch when the zoo reopens, how they perk up when the people start coming in again.”

That day is Saturday, April 28, at the facility, South Washington at Ezra Rust. But first, a digression.

Last winter the animals who live outside year-round got an added dimension to their shelters — heating mats placed under the straw on the ground to keep them warm and arthritis at bay.

“We had an Arctic Zoo Fest, a first winter event for us, in January,” recalls Parker. “It was a really cold day, about 20 degrees, and 935 people came through.

“We laugh in recalling that was the day the animals were watching the people — they stayed on their mats, and others in their heated buildings with their heads poking out, and watched the people walking by who were cold.”

Two impressive new critters make their debut when the zoo reopens at the end of the month — a three-year-old serval (cat) named Jabari and a 12-year-old talking crow named Edgar (who really is a she, and surprised its former owner by laying an egg well after she was named Edgar).

Jabari, about the size of a mid-size dog and sporting brilliant yellow and black fur, lives in style in a heated and air-conditioned room with a view.

“He has a panoramic view of the zoo in a red-brick building with windows on three sides as well as an open air area when it’s warm enough. Servals are from Africa and when it’s below

50 degrees, he’s not outside. He’s quite a jumper.”

The zoo got Jabari from an animal collector when he was a kitten, and has kept him hidden in a building until he grew up and his new home was built.

Edgar the crow has not arrived yet, but is coming from the zoo in Battle Creek.

“She was raised by people, says hello in a variety of ways as well as a few other words, and comes right over when someone appears,” Parker adds.

“We are having a cage built for her in the Forgotten Forest, with a tree in it, so she can be a free-flight bird. She’s very people-friendly.”

Sometime toward the end of the season, says Parker, the zoo will become a construction zone again as the barnyard area undergoes a transformation and expands in size.

“The area will become more of a working farm — with a garden where kids can see the root systems of vegetables and can pick up a hoe and tend to a garden. We’ll teach them about growing potatoes and carrots, they can milk a fake cow, there are plans for a windmill and water pump and we’ll add some animals.”

That addition is part of a $1.9 million project that includes the wetlands area, which opened last year, and an upcoming aviary.

Also planned this season is the construction of a walk-through building to house small animals such as a pot-bellied pig, the zoo dog named Paws, bunnies, mice and rats.

The wheels are turning in Parker’s head about future possibilities as she enters her fourth season as the zoo executive director.

When she was online researching ways to go green (environmentally friendly) at the zoo, she located a

totally sustainable one in Denmark.

“What I discovered was it also had a walk-through exhibit with snakes,

non-venomous ones, of course, like our walk-through butterfly house. I want to look into something like that eventually. The moms won’t like it but the kids will love it.”

As for going green, the Saginaw zoo already composts and reuses the 10 tons of animals waste and bedding straw it accumulates annually and eventually plans to grow vegetables for its veggie-eating animals.

“It’s a multi-step process, and we are working with Mid-Michigan Waste as a partner/sponsor. It makes sense for the environment and in terms of dollars and cents for our operating costs.”

Parker, 54, also is working on getting the zoo accredited by 2008 with the American Aquarium and Zoological Association

The admission price is going up $2 this year, to $7, Parker says, due to the increase in the minimum wage and energy costs. The zoo has the equivalent of 22 full-time employees among its full-time, part-time and seasonal workers.

Last year, 107 youths ages 13 to 16 worked as members of the Zoo Crew, tending gardens, working in the store, painting faces and caring for animals.

“They are a wonderful resource and come from Bay City and Midland as well as Saginaw, from schools as well as home schooled,” says Parker. “They have fun and learn at the same time.” v

Janet I. Martineau is the arts/entertainment editor for The Saginaw News. You may reach her at 776-9707 or jmartineau@thesaginawnews.com.

http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/saginawnews/ index.ssf?/base/entertainment-1/ 11759413255700.xml&coll=9

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