‘Tango in the Jungle’ set to raise funds for Miller Park Zoo

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‘Tango in the Jungle’ set to raise funds for Miller Park Zoo

By Scott Richardson srichardson@pantagraph.com
Posted: Sunday, August 30, 2009 12:00 am

BLOOMINGTON — Zoos do more than offer personal encounters with animals most people don’t see anywhere else. The upcoming Zoo-Do fundraiser at Miller Park Zoo will help expand a local program that’s part of a worldwide effort to save critically endangered species.

Money collected during the Sept. 12 evening of food, music, and auctions will go toward establishing the Bloomington zoo as a breeding site for Sumatran tigers. At present, fewer than 400 of the animals live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which gives the subspecies its name. Despite game preserves and strict regulations, illegal poaching reduces their number by about 10 percent each year.

Currently, Miller Park Zoo has two male Sumatran tigers, long-time resident Besar and Rojo, a new arrival from Akron, Ohio.

Acting animal collection manager Wendy Klessig said the goal for Zoo-Do is to raise $50,000 to create a new enclosure for gibbons in the zoo’s oldest building, the Katthoefer Animal Building built in 1914. Moving the gibbons will make room for a second Sumatran tiger enclosure so a male can be separated from the female and her offspring when the time comes.

The second enclosure is required to enroll in the Sumatran tiger species survival plan. The remodeling is the second phase of Operation Roar. The first phase added an on-site animal hospital at a cost of $400,000. Estimates put the price tag for the rest of the work at $500,000 to $700,000.

The zoo houses a variety of breeding animals that are part of species survival plans that Klessig described as a kind of “dating service” operated among participating zoos. The goal is to provide a wide gene pool to enhance animal health.

Captive breeding helps ensure survival of a species. Ultimately, the endangered animals housed in zoos could provide animals for release back into their native ranges. Under the Species Survival Plans, zoos like Miller Park agree to provide homes to specimens of more than 100 species struggling to survive as a result of habitat destruction and disease.

Last winter, the zoo received a breeding pair of endangered Red Ruffed Lemurs. Native to Madagascar, their numbers in the wild are suffering from habitat loss. The zoo also has a breeding pair of red pandas.

The zoo also takes part in population management programs to house, rather than breed, other endangered species. They include the agoutti, three-banded armadillo, scarlet ibis, Laughing kookaburra, Amur leopard, pygmy marmoset, North American river otter, Burrowing owl, California Sea lion, two-toed sloth, Galapagos tortoises, among others.

Miller Park Zoo is home to other rare animals, too, such: as the a sun bear; callimico, a species of small monkey; Pallas cats; Panamanian golden frogs; radiated tortoise; cotton-top tamarin, and red wolves.

Though his bags are hardly unpacked, the zoo’s new superintendent, Jay Tetzloff, said he’s committed to broadening programs to aid critically endangered species put in place by recently retired superintendent John Tobias.

Before arriving in the Twin Cities, Tetzloff, 38, was curator at Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he took part in breeding programs involving snow leopards and black rhinos. The rhino program produced a baby rhino three years ago.

“The purpose of zoos, all these zoos working together, is to really conserve endangered species,” said Tetzloff, who also has worked with Sumatran tigers during his 22-year zoo career. “It’s a back-up plan. Should Sumatran tigers go extinct in the future, hopefully they’ll be enough to reintroduce them in the wild down the road.”

Some research suggests as few as eight mature female Sumatrans capable of giving birth may remain in their native land.

“They are almost jaw-dropping facts. They almost scare you when they hear them,” Tetzloff said. “There are lots of species my kids will never see. …Zoos are incredibly important for conservation as well as recreation.”

This comes at a time when visits to the zoo are on the rise. Attendance during the first quarter of the fiscal year ending July 31 57,407, up 10 percent from the same period a year earlier, said Susie Ohley, spokesman for the Miller Park Zoological Society, the primary sponsor of Zoo-Do.

She credited the upswing to several factors, including: mild summer weather; higher fuel costs and the recession that encouraged Central Illinois residents to explore attractions closer to home; and a variety of new zoo attractions, including the chance to take part in twice-daily feedings of free-flight birds.

Zoo-Do: Tango in the Jungle
What: A fundraiser to expand Miller Park Zoo’s commitment to species survival programs involving critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 12

Where: Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington

Highlights: Zoo exhibits, hors d’oeuvres, beverages, music, dancing, body-painting and more. Auction items include a specially designed pendant by Bremer Jewelry and three paintings done by zoo staff using non-toxic paint on the paws of endangered species. They include Besar, a Sumatran tiger, an Amur Leopard and Pallas cats. Guests also will bid on a chance to assist renowned animal expert Jack Hanna when he appears at the Bloomington Center of Performing Arts on Jan. 16.

Tickets: $60 each.

More information: (309) 862-0007 or www.pantagraph.com/zoodo



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