When asked what animal they'd like to see at Zoo Boise, three Lake Hazel Middle School students at the zoo on a field trip didn't hesitate to answer.
"Lions," they said. And after a moment of brief consultation among each other they added, "And more bears, too."
Fortunately for the lion-loving youth searching the zoo in hope of catching a glimpse of a maned and roaring king, Zoo Boise Superintendent Steve Burns echoes their wishes.
"Lions and giraffes are animals we'd like to have," said Burns regarding animals on the zoo's wish list. Burns explained that the zoo's long-term master plan calls for different areas of the zoo to be dedicated to various continents including animals from Asia, Africa and North and South America. While the zoo is currently raising money for an African Plains exhibit that would include lions and giraffes, it is also busy making homes for new arrivals.
Six Magellanic penguins are taking regular dips in the cool water of their new home at the Credit Data Idaho Penguin Pavilion after they were introduced to Boise last May. Also getting used to life in Idaho are two ocelots, animals that resemble very large domestic cats and live in a variety of habitats including the Rio Grande Valley area as well as in the tropical forests of the Amazon and the mountainous areas of Central America.
Next week zoo goers will greet a new face to Boise's animal kingdom, the red panda. A smaller relative of the well-known giant panda bear, the red panda can be found in the wild in the bamboo forests of the Himalayan Mountains. The red panda, donated to Zoo Boise by the Knoxville Zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee, can be seen climbing through its own bamboo forests in Idaho on June 1.
In addition to launching fundraising projects for future exhibits and adding new members to the zoo community, Zoo Boise has been busy expanding and renovating current exhibits. Both the Amur tiger and snow leopard exhibits have recently received makeover attention. In fact, over the last few years Zoo Boise has been working as hard as a limited budget will allow to help make the zoo into regular destination for Treasure Valley residents.
Hidden away in Julia Davis Park, many locals still imagine Zoo Boise as it was 10 years ago.
"Out biggest education challenge is that a lot of people in town haven't been to the zoo in 10 years and they still have the image of the old zoo," admits Burns.
But after spending $3.6 million on capitol improvements in the last eight years, Zoo Boise today is a vastly improved version of what many people remember. In total, 27 new exhibits have been added, eight exhibits renovated and three expanded.
Despite the improvements made to exhibits in the last decade, perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Zoo Boise was its achievement of accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association in 2002.
"The red panda is our first true reward of accreditation," said Burns. "One of the benefits [of accreditation] is having access to animals."
Only 215 zoos in the United States are accredited, a status that can only be achieved when a zoo adheres to a total of 156 standards set by the American Zoo Association. The standards mandate how a zoo should be managed, including the handling of animals, fiscal management and visitor services. Acquiring an animal from an accredited zoo not only assures that the animal has received a certain level of care, but receiving an animal as an accredited zoo nearly negates the need for endless amounts of paperwork. When Zoo Boise acquired its tigers several years ago, it was not yet an accredited zoo.
"It took years to fill out the paperwork," said Burns regarding the acquisition of the tigers. "With accreditation we would have signed one paper and the question would have been, 'When do you want them?'"
With accreditation, the possibility of Zoo Boise acquiring lions for wishful students now depends on the generosity of valley residents whose donations are needed to make the African Plains exhibit a reality.
Until then, there are plenty of animals just as worthy of a trip to the zoo a lion. If it's been a while since Zoo Boise was on your list of weekend adventures, add it to the summer lineup. June 20 is Dynamic Dad's Day, a Father's Day celebration that includes discount admission for fathers. Zoofari nights are scheduled June 15, July 20 and August 17 so that you and your family can visit with the animals in the cool of the early evening. Regular zoo admission plus $3 gets you a hot dog, chips, a soft drink and ice cream from Maggie Moo's. There will be musical entertainment, special animal feedings, stories and, of course, animals under the stars. Zoo chats happen several times a day, giving visitors the opportunity to learn more about (and sometimes even touch) animals like penguins, gemsboks and iguanas. Later this summer, Reptile Rampage, a new reptile show, is promised for all who love those that slither and crawl.
Throughout the summer Animal Storytime takes place on Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for kids ages 3 to 6. For the young and old who love animals, volunteer positions are available through the Zoo Boise Education Department. For more information on activities and events, call 384-4125. For information on how to become a member of Friends of Zoo Boise, or to make a donation to Zoo Boise, call 384-4260 or visit www.cityofboise.org/parks/zoo.
Zoo Boise is located in Julia Davis Park
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: 3 and under free, $2.50 ages 4-11, $5 ages 12-61, $2.75 seniors, Friends of Zoo Boise members free with membership card and ID. Thursday is Family Day with discount admission prices.