Nevada wildlife facility founders prepare to turn over reins

Rhonda Costa-Landers
Appeal Staff Writer, rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com
December 10, 2006

Diana and Aaron Hiibel began in 1980 what has become a unique wildlife sanctuary and nature center in the hills just beyond Reno.

The Animal Ark is home to animals indigenous to Nevada and several endangered species from around the world. The Hiibels have worked in the sanctuary, broadening their skills as caretakers for animals not able to return to the wild.

The time has come, however, for the couple to turn operations over to the Animal Ark Foundation Board. Aaron, 56, and Diana, 55, said it is vital for the property to be put into the nonprofit’s hands so it may continue for another 25 years.

“It’s been a long haul for us,” Aaron Hiibel said. “It is critical for Animal Ark to go on. We need to turn it over to the next generation.”

In order for the Animal Ark to stay nonprofit, the property must change hands from the Hiibels to the foundation. The foundation needs to raise $100,000 by Friday in order to receive a matching grant from the Thomas and Hart Foundation, and be in escrow by June.

The goal of the foundation is to raise $1.4 million for its Capital Development program.

Donations of cash, assets of stocks, bonds and real estate may be donated. Gifts-in-kind such as construction materials and landscaping will also be accepted.

There are more than 30 naming opportunities with the campaign.

“We have a good board of directors and a young staff we are confident will take care of Animal Ark,” Aaron said.

Animals at the sanctuary include: wolves, foxes, mountain lions, bears, birds of prey, tigers, cheetahs – in a special arrangement with the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust in South Africa – bobcats, and others. Some animals were received from the Nevada Division of Wildlife, rescued from other animal sanctuaries, or were turned over to them after residents realized they could not care for a wild animal.

“Yogi,” an adult black bear, was brought to Animal Ark after a couple divorced and neither party wanted to keep him.

The Animal Ark is open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, April through October. Activities include animal demonstrations, educational displays, picnic areas, guides and a gift shop. Visitors can clearly see animals in secure habitats, learning of their history and living habits through tour guides and information posted at each enclosure.

“We need to further educate children and adults about the issues facing wildlife today regarding population expansion, diminishing habitat, land use and pollution,” Aaron said.

Diana Hiibel excels in care for the wolves, birds of prey and cheetahs. Her involvement with the Ark will continue.

“The cheetah cubs are doing great,” she said. “They are very social and well-behaved.”

“It is critical we raise funds for the property to change hands,” Aaron said. “Though we will not be living here as on-site caretakers, Diana will be involved with the animals’ care.”

Grey wolves Raven and Nischa, both 11, are fond of Diana. They eagerly run to her when she walks by their enclosure.

“They would have only lived to half this age if they lived in the wild,” Diana said. “You have to respect all these animals for what they are – wild animals.”

* Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.

http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20061210/NEWS/112100088

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