Legislators shouldn’t rush to override Patrick’s veto of zoo money unless Zoo New England - which hasn’t responded to media inquiries - answers some basic questions: Why not consolidate the Stone Zoo with the Franklin Park Zoo?...Combining zoos in order to save money -- create "efficiencies," in bureaucrat-speak -- could be accomplished in a number of novel ways by moving the Stone Zoo animals to existing exhibit space at the Franklin Park Zoo. The key is that new exhibit space cannot be built, otherwise such expensive new construction would not save money.
Here are some ideas for how to combine animal exhibits to save money:
Mexican Gray Wolves. These animals are one of the most popular attractions among the children at Stone Zoo, particularly due to the challenge to find them hiding up top a rocky promontory. Kids go crazy over the challenge of finding them, even if all they can glimpse are a few ears over the tops of some rocks.
At Franklin Park, the wolves could easily be incorporated into the Children's Petting Zoo in a pen alongside the sheep and goats. Just lock the barn doors at night, and let nature do its course. Cost savings: much reduced expenses for feeding not just the sheep and goats, but also the wolves. Bonus: occasionally take a few chickens next door and toss them into the barn before closing it for the night. More savings.
Coyotes. Ditto. Easy answer, similarly good cost savings. Added benefit: watch the wolves and coyotes duke it out, and charge admission to raise even more money.
Bald Eagles. The bald eagles at Stone Zoo could be put to good use in the Tropical Forest Pavilion, even though the climate inside (warm and humid) isn't quite to their liking. Just alternate them between the mandrill and lemur exhibits, both places where the eagles would have a field day catching hordes of mice. Kill two birds with one stone.
Flamingos. There are flamingo exhibits at both zoos, so a bureaucrat could easily look at a piece of paper and determine that putting them all into a single enclosure at Franklin Park would save money. Never mind that the Franklin Park enclosure looks horribly crowded already -- or that it was an (originally) temporary location for them when they were evicted from the bottom of the aviary next door, which itself had to be evacuated of birds a couple of years ago to make way for an installation of a dinosaur exhibit featuring fake animals. No worry. Just cram all those flamingos into that little enclosure and watch the mayhem that ensues. It'll look like Fantasia 2000, I'm sure!
River Otters. These frisky animals have a recently-renovated exhibit at Stone Zoo. They require water for swimming around, so the obvious place for them is the aquarium tank in the Tropical Forest Pavilion. Saves feeding costs for both river otters and fish (see Wolves, above).
Hornbills. There are a number of different birds at Stone Zoo that could be housed, at least in summertime, in the wide open space inside the Butterfly Pavilion netting. There's just a lot of extra, unused airspace waiting for animals to be crammed inside. Further efficiencies: some of the birds eat butterflies.
Lion Exhibit. The male lion's exhibit at Franklin Park -- his female companion died a couple of years ago due to a blood illness -- is full of lots of empty space. He spends pretty much the whole day in a little 10' x 10' area, sunning and sleeping and periodically roaring.
Save money by fencing this 100 square foot space off so that the lion can keep it, but create new, fenced-in cages for other animals with the remaining space. In order to add interest, populate those adjacent cages with animals that will tempt the lion: reindeer, pygmy zebu, markhur goats, yak, zebras, wildebeest, etc. The lion will be clawing at through the fence all day, and the kids will eat it up!
Jaguars, Cougars, Snow Leopard. These animals look sort-of similar to tigers, so you can just put them in with the yellow and white tigers in their recently-built exhibit. Or maybe just rotate the animals daily just to see if anybody notices. What's the difference?
Meerkats. The Stone Zoo has some of these small animals from southern Africa, who like to hang out in tunnels and stand on their haunches above-ground. Franklin Park has prairie dogs from North America that share the same interests. Any old bureaucrat can see that they're bound to become BFF. Just throw 'em all together.
Bonus: maybe they'll cross-breed and we'll get some new kind of mutant that can have its own series on Animal Planet. Licensing rights bring more money to the zoo, so it's gotta work.
Birds-Of-Prey Show. Stone Zoo has a show during the summer where zookeepers fly birds-of-prey around the audience to display their prowess. Turn these animals into a traveling show that sets up shop at a different North Allston corner every hour. You know, North Allston has something of a rodent problem.
Bonus: charge Harvard for the cost of the show, which they can then bill as a community benefit for their stalled Allston science complex. Win-win all-around.
Alternatives If Zoo New England Folds
If Zoo New England shuts down in October due to a budget shortfall, terms of the private-public partnership turn over all the property (including the animals) to the state. How would the state government find space for all the animals, without resorting to euthanizing them? Here's a few ideas:
Bats. The bat exhibit in the "Sierra Madre" area of the Stone Zoo is located behind a darkened cloth entry, so that visitors can see the bats in their nighttime behavior.
These animals are easy to find a home: I hear that the Governor's office has some nice new drapes that could provide the bats with their darkness.
Goats. The U.S. Naval Academy always needs more goats, so ship 'em off to Annapolis.
Snakes. Chairs of the committees at the state legislature would have first dibs in deciding where in the state house to release the snakes.
Kangaroos. These animals have a large pouch on their front, which a perfect hiding place for stashing wads of cash in order to slip through security. House the kangaroos in the Dianne Wilkerson Memorial Office at the state house?
Oh, and whose office would get the mountain gorillas? The stinky porcupines? The two condors?
Image of a Poitou donkey, a new introduction into the Franklin Park Zoo's petting area, from Zoo New England's twitterPic.