There is a need to move the Sacramento Zoo to Elk Grove
Move the zoo to Elk Grove?
The city of Elk Grove plans to build a modern Sacramento Regional Zoo from the ground up – the country’s first new zoo since the Indianapolis Zoo in 1988, a key consultant on the project said.
Modern zoos perform essential roles in the communities they serve. They provide a meaningful connection between people, animals and nature; they educate and inspire people to care about animals and have empathy for animals; and they advocate for the protection and conservation of wildlife both locally and globally. Our region and the animals deserve a modern zoo.
The city of Sacramento operated the zoo until the 1990s, when the zoo’s accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums was threatened due to inadequate staff and antiquated facilities. In 1997, the nonprofit Sacramento Zoological Society took over the day-to-day management of the zoo and ran it as a nonprofit model, focusing on animal welfare, education, and conservation. Nonetheless, it has become increasingly clear that in order to have a viable zoo that meets the needs of animals and the expectations of the public, the zoo needs more space and modern facilities.
Today’s conversation about building a new zoo in Elk Grove is not a new or unexpected idea. Instead, it’s the culmination of decades of efforts to meet the zoo’s undeniable need for more space.
The zoo is 95 years old. Over the decades, the search for more space has included discussions of expanding within Land Park as well as building a new zoo in another part of the city of Sacramento. The city’s most recent feasibility study, the first to be undertaken in about 10 years, focused on the same categories of options and concluded that none of these options for a larger zoo are viable.
During this time, the Zoological Society made many difficult choices in managing their limited space. In addition to the cramped quarters, the zoo’s main infrastructure is 60 to 90 years old and failing.
Animals like the tiger, hippo, and grizzly bear – animals the community expects to see at the zoo and need the support of accredited zoos – will never return due to the physical limitations of the current site. Also, while we provide excellent care for the animals that currently live at the zoo, it is undeniable that with more space and modern facilities, we could provide them with better lives and do more to protect wildlife.
Of course, a larger, modern zoo would also serve the people of this region better. Without parking and with limited accessibility to public transportation, the current zoo site fundamentally undermines our educational mission and limits our ability to generate the income necessary to support our operations and conservation efforts. There is a critical need for zoos to support populations of rare and threatened species and to serve as partners for conservation programs globally. The zoo’s ability to generate income is also important because the Sacramento Zoo – unlike almost every other municipal zoos in this country – relies almost entirely on private donations and visitor income from admissions, concessions and sales of goods to finance its operations.
The proposed site identified by the Town of Elk Grove would address these long-standing needs and challenges, providing sufficient land to support current conservation efforts as well as to expand them. The new site would also offer greater accessibility to the entire region, with dedicated parking and facilities to support public transport and school group visits. That’s why we’re excited to explore this possibility with Elk Grove over the next few months.
The Sacramento Zoo is, and always will be, a regional zoo, welcoming more than half a million visitors from across Northern California and western Nevada each year. Our region deserves a new, modern zoo with a greater capacity to educate and inspire future generations about animals and nature, which is vital for our quality of life. This is why we are committed to doing everything in our power to create a quality zoo that serves our region, its residents and its animals.
Jason Jacobs is the Executive Director of the Sacramento Zoo. Elizabeth Stallard is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Sacramento Zoological Society.