Friday, April 06, 2007

Zoo Vision

The wonderful story of the Zoo’s success of the past several years and the emerging vision of expansion from this treasured local resource has come about largely from its decision a decade ago to put management into the hands of a nonprofit organization, something the Parkway would also benefit from.

It's a Penguin Party
Zoo hopes birds, making debut today, will be big draw
By Bobby Caina Calvan - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, April 6, 2007

The mayor arrived at the Sacramento Zoo appropriately dressed in black and white. So did the head zookeeper.

After all, Thursday morning's most important guests -- a half-dozen visitors from San Francisco -- were slicked out, in tails, for a celebration 80 years in the making.

The zoo is banking on using its attention-grabbing VIPs -- very important penguins, that is -- to be the life of the party in a yearlong bash marking yet another milestone for a community institution that is looking to evolve into one of the region's marquee attractions.

The Sutterville Road facility hopes to seize on the popularity of penguins to keep visitors marching through the gates to boost revenue and keep the zoo in the public eye as it competes for corporate funding and looks to move from its 14-acre Land Park home for roomier digs.

"Penguins have been pretty popular in the last couple of years. With the movies that have come out -- 'March of the Penguins' and 'Happy Feet' -- they've taken off in popularity," said Mary Healy, the zoo's director. "They'll be part of the celebration all year long."

The general public will be given a chance to join the celebration today when the penguins, housed in a special enclosure under the shade of a tent near the zoo entrance, are officially put on display.

Attendance patterns have risen and fallen in recent years, but have generally been on the upswing after dipping in 2002 -- perhaps because of anxieties over the 2001 terrorist attacks, zoo officials said. Last year's attendance was nearly 449,000.

There are high hopes the penguins -- like the three Sumatran tiger cubs that debuted at the zoo in February -- will generate ticket sales.

"We hope they'll draw the crowds," said Lauren Kraft, the zoo's spokeswoman.

Daily attendance has been averaging about 4,000 in recent days, about 50 percent higher than usual, Kraft said.

Interest in the penguins has been high -- phones have been ringing off the hook, Kraft said -- boding well for the exhibit's run, which is expected to last until at least October and could be extended to a year if public demand is high.

The zoo is increasingly reliant on goodwill from corporations and other donors to pay upkeep, salaries and other projects.

A decade ago, the city gave up its management of the zoo to the nonprofit Sacramento Zoological Society. It continues to provide a fifth of the zoo's $4.1 million operating budget -- $850,000 last year, according to the mayor's office.