Saturday, October 11, 2014

New ABQ zoo carousel could help bring otters, penguins

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Zoo is about to get a big new attraction. It’s not an exotic animal, but if it makes enough money, it could mean the zoo gets its penguins much faster.

The BioPark society says a carousel is coming to the zoo and the more people that ride it, the quicker they’ll have the cash needed for the long-delayed penguins. “I think they’re very interested!” said Helen Muller, a grandmother with two grandchildren at the zoo on Thursday.

It hasn’t even been built yet, but already, plans for a new carousel at the zoo have a lot of early fans.
“Oh wow! That’s awesome,” said a family of four visiting the zoo Thursday. “I think that would be well worth it,” said Marina Gonzales, a mother of two. “My kids, every time we go to the mall they have to get on that carousel!”

The new ride is slated to open in April 2015 near the Sea Lion exhibit, which is where the camel rides used to be. The carousel will feature the likes of 30 endangered animals kids can ride for $2 each. “Everything from a Tazmanian devil and a lobo to a penguin,” said Barry Bitzer, development director for the BioPark Society.

The New Mexico BioPark Society is behind the ride which won’t cost the city a dime. The half-million dollar carousel is being donated by food vendor ‘SSA,’ which runs the Cottonwood Café and other food establishments at the zoo. “Oh this is huge for us,” said Bitzer.

The deal is “huge” according to Bitzer not just because the ride was donated, but because it could be a big fundraiser. The BioPark Society is selling about $250,000 worth of sponsorships for each animal on the carousel. “(The cost for the sponsorships are) anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000,” said Bitzer.

The BioPark Society says each $2 ticket sold, will go towards something people have been waiting a long time for. “The sooner we get the money raised sooner we get otters underway, the sooner we can focus on penguins,” said Bitzer.

The zoo has about $3 million of the $8 million needed for the penguins and their home. It’s a project that’s gotten more expensive and more difficult, because of bird flu. “If you’re going to build an exhibit that gives them an outdoor indoor set of options, you actually have to take some extraordinary measure to protect them from that,” said Bitzer.

The city has spent the last year coming up with a “master plan” for the zoo and BioPark. According to representatives in Mayor Richard Berry’s office, that plan will go to Albuquerque City Council approval sometime in the next month. Some of the ideas in the plan includes a parking deck, an underwater hippo viewing area and a new shuttle system between the zoo and aquarium.

The aquarium could be getting a river otter exhibit next year. Bernalillo County will put a bond measure in front of voters in November that would provide two of the $2.5 million needed to open it.


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