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Riverside Zoobilee

August 16, 2010

I generally don’t like going to zoos. The confined animals depress me. I much prefer to experience the thrill and the privilege of seeing animals by chance in their native habitat. (Animals often change their behavior in a zoo, so I’d just as soon look at the stuffed animals at Wildlife World to get an up-close view.)

Thus, the Zoobilee fundraiser this past weekend was the first time I’d been at the Riverside Zoo in Scottsbluff (other than for a quick jaunt in and out for a story).

Even though I personally don’t care for zoos, they have their place in education and entertainment, especially for youngsters. I wanted to support the zoo. If Riverside Zoo (one of three Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoos in Nebraska) were not here, area residents wishing to visit a decent zoo would have to travel 3.5 hours to the nearest accredited zoo in Denver, or 6.5 hours to the one in Lincoln. (There are no accredited zoos in Wyoming.)

The zoo has been somewhat beleaguered of late. Budget cuts have been a constant threat. In a bid to improve the numbers, a plan is underway to wrap the zoo into a larger edutainment center. Due to funding restrictions, the zoo had to give up several dozen animals.

I’m not sure how well the fundraiser went, but there seemed to be a lot of people there.

The food was pretty good, and the Beatles tribute band seemed to please a lot of people. There was some concern that the monkeys wouldn’t be too fond of the Beatles, but they appeared to do OK, swinging from the bars of their enclosure near the stage. (The monkeys, not the band members.)

Monkees vs faux Beatles, on stage just beyond the enclosure.

There was also a cash bar at the event, which reminded me of the last time I visited a zoo. It was Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa. The occasion was Zoo Brew.

It’s kinda fun to wander around a zoo after hours with a beer in hand and no kids underfoot. Perhaps that’s something Riverside Zoo could do on a regular basis to increase its attendance.

I think the zoo has a good thing going with the splash pad added last year.

Now, about that loss of animals . . . the zoo’s collection seems a little scattershot, as was the removal of animals. There are native critters in addition to those from far-flung continents, all kind of bunched around. I didn’t really see a method to the madness.

I’ve heard some folks opine that the zoo should focus on its native animal collection, to do a “what the pioneers would have encountered” for a “hook” to draw people in. Not a bad idea.

But there’s also the fact that lots of people want to come to the zoo to see the biggies, like lions.

How about this idea: compare the “Nebraska Serengeti” with the real Serengeti.

I’ve seen the comparison made a few times in a fossil context that the land that’s now Nebraska was once part of a plains ecosystem similar to the Serengeti in east Africa.

Why not work towards an exhibit that would highlight the various ecosystem roles of creatures here, and compare them with animals from the same ecosystem niches that originate around the Serengeti?

How cool would it be to have a mountain lion and an African lion, a turkey vulture and an African white-backed vulture, a pronghorn antelope and a Thompson’s gazelle, a swift fox and a bat-eared fox? And on top of that, a lesson about ecosystem roles!

Probably a pie-in-the-sky project that wouldn’t be feasible without a kajillionaire benefactor and several decades’ time, but it’s fun to think about.

In the meantime, here’s hoping the zoo and Riverside Discovery Center transition go smoothly.

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2010 11:38 am

    Let’s hear it for transitions for the educational team and transitions of all kinds!

  2. Monique permalink
    August 16, 2010 2:45 pm

    LOVE your idea!!

  3. August 18, 2010 10:55 pm

    Nice ideas for the zoo, but you really should get over feeling “sad” when seeing a zoo. Here’s a suggestion — just remember that animals and people are different. Animals do not understand concepts like liberty and freedom. They are more interested in food, safety, comfort, and mating. Modern zoos are literally responsible to saving many species from outright extinction. The next time you see a buffalo (bison), thank America’s zoos.

    Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor: America’s Best Zoos

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink*
      August 19, 2010 7:16 pm

      Yes, zoos have an important conservation purpose on this sinking ark of ours. And, yes, there are many animals that have a much better quality of life in a zoo than in the wild and wouldn’t notice the difference.

      But there are also some zoos where animals exhibit neurotic behavior (pacing, pulling out their fur or feathers), presumably due to living conditions that are contrary to their needs in some way.

      And for me, the sight of a giraffe dashing back and forth in a small enclosure could never compare to seeing one hightailing it across the plains in person. I blame my travels for spoiling the zoo experience for me.

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