View slideshow Exhibits, visitors prosper from Chaffee development (VIDEO)
Zoo to unveil larger animals, displays to attract patrons
Due to Measure Z, a tax-initiative bill that was passed in 2004, one-tenth of a cent spent by citizens of Fresno County goes towards to the expansion of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. After years of funding, this allows the park to afford the construction of larger exhibits and the housing of new animals.
This is the second of a two-part feature dedicated to the restoration of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. In each article, staff writer Gigi Thao will explore the site's reconstruction, provided for by taxpayer dollars, as well as the ramifications of the procedure.
Some can relate to the experience of having a school field trip to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in grade school. That, or they might remember their own family's visit to the zoo. Though today they may only remain the faded images of childhood days, we still know that the trip had two things children looked forward too: excitement and adventure.
Upon arriving, kids would gather around a map, discussing with chaperons which exhibits they might visit first. Whether it was their favorite animal or something they had never heard of, every display was unique in its own design.
Yet, as we have grown and added to our experiences and intellect, the zoo has also added to its own uniqueness. For one, they created the stingray exhibit in 2007, where students could go and pet the many types of rays the pool accommodates.
Additionally, through the passing of Measure Z, the zoo has received one-tenth of a cent spent by citizens of Fresno County. This measure, enacted in 2004, started the first process in Chaffee's expansion. Since then, the zoo has accrued about $40 million. Director of Education Adrienne Castro says that the zoo hopes to expand from its current 18-acre plot to about 39 acres. Some of the early renovations include a larger aquarium for the seal and sea lion exhibit, changing their original 30,000-gallon pool into a 200,000-gallon mansion.
"The area will be an underwater viewing area, something that we don't have at this zoo, so we as visitors will have the opportunity to see the animals in their natural habitats," Castro said. "So the sea lions and seals are going from an apartment to a mansion. The exhibit will be able to house eight sea lions and right now we have three and one seal. We will be getting another seal from Albuquerque in a month or two, though."
Along with that, the zoo will bring back some of its animals it has regretfully given away over the years due to zoo exchanges. One example is a rhinoceros. There are already plans to make a larger African exhibit which will bring back this animal, amongst others, which needed larger living spaces to accommodate them.
"The goal for the money was to bring back large animals like lions and rhinos," Castro said. "But to bring back animals like lions, we need more room and there is no place in this current footprint that can house lions because we would need to get a pride [several of them]. We might also bring back cheetahs and African elephants. So expanding primarily is urged by the fact that we need more space for those animals."
"Anytime we build an exhibit, we just don't consider their physical being or health we consider their social enrichments. We would like to see the animals in a more natural environment." --Adrienne Castro, Chafee's Director of Education
As the President of BKC Inc., Brent King [father of FC students Julianne, '12, and Katie, '14] plays a major role in the expansion. He received the project because his company was a previous contractor to the client. After almost three years of waiting due to disagreements from the Roeding family, King was finally allowed to start this year.
"We have a working relationship with this client and we appreciate the opportunity and gladly accept the request," King said. "The job has taken nearly three years to get to where it's at since there were early bid discussions due to a dispute with the Roeding family on the proposed zoo expansion plans. Fortunately, that was settled, and the project will be complete."
Despite a delayed start, King still says there could be difficulties to come. However, his company specializes in unique designs, so he looks forward to what is to come.
"Another challenge will be access to install our work. We are sensitive to other park exhibits and will be required to work within the boundary allowed," King said. "[But] a job like this is one of a kind because this is a zoo project, the design recreates a natural-habitat setting."
Even the zoo's old exhibits will be turned into brand new ones. The current sea lion exhibit will eventually be an otter home, after some adjustments. The expansion will also help with the birth of new animals, as the zoo will now have room to keep them.
"We had two baby orangutans and that's really cool because they are really endangered in the wild ... so to have two here is really amazing," Castro said. "[Also] the [sea lion] pool is the perfect size for otters."
As the expansion progresses, exhibits at the zoo will be better beautified. Additionally, renovations will allow the animals to yield more offspring, which zoo official's hope attracts more visitors.
When developing a new habitat for any animal, Castro says the zoo works to make the home full of social enrichment and put them in more natural environments.
"Anytime we build an exhibit, we just don't consider their physical being or health, we consider their social enrichments," Castro said. "We would like to see the animals in a more natural environment. When we renovate for the otters, we'll add some more dirt and logs and things like that that will mimic their natural habitats."
For King, there is deeper meaning in this project because he is a part of the Fresno community. At the moment, King is working directly with the construction of the new Sea Lion Cove.
"This exhibit will be like nothing Fresno has. It will rival other major city zoo exhibits because the viewing area will provide an aquarium style feel since you will be able to view underwater through a thick plexiglass," King said. "Since the tax measure was passed many years ago, we get to see something being built for all to enjoy. There is an air of excitement that goes with being a part of a team building a project that families will enjoy for years to come."
However, in addition to Measure Z, Castro says the zoo always needs people to support the expansion. Ways people can do this include donating to the zoo or simply visiting every now and then.
"Being a member and just visiting would help," Castro said. "Multiple teenagers volunteer every summer and they love the zoo. Besides, a lot of places don't have a zoo, but where else can you really go to see a giraffe?"
And with the expansion, the zoo will hopefully attract even more visitors. Castro especially believes the zoo is a better place to spend one's weekend.
"Why not? Honestly, we're cheaper than a movie and you don't have to spend all day here, they can see the zoo in a few hours and people enjoy that," Castro said. "This zoo also belongs to the teenagers of Fresno and it could be there for their families when they grow up. It's definitely a place for them to create memories and develop friendships."
For more information about the expansion, visit the previous installment, Chaffee Zoo anticipates future renovations, expansion.