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Relocation and Expansion

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The future of the zoo: Expansion And Relocation

To continue to fulfill the zoo’s mission in conservation and animal welfare and become a world-class facility, the zoo is exploring a plan to relocate to a larger, more accessible location.


12/5/2020 Update:

In May 2019, Mayor Steinberg and the Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to conduct an in-depth feasibility study to further examine the potential relocation and expansion of the Sacramento Zoo and to examine closely specific potential relocation sites. The City’s study has been completed and was recently sent by City officials to the Sacramento Zoo Board of Trustees. Following review, the Sac Zoo Board of Trustees sent the following letter to Mayor and Council recommending North Natomas Regional Park as the preferred site for zoo relocation. The topic of zoo relocation and the feasibility study is on the agenda for the next City Council Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, December 8 at 5 pm.

View the City Council report on the feasibility study here.

The following letter was sent to Mayor Steinberg and the Sacramento City Council:


December 4, 2020

Dear Mayor Steinberg:

At the City Council meeting on May 28, 2019, the Council unanimously acknowledged the Sacramento Zoo is a vital and valuable asset that must be enhanced to provide appropriate care to the animals that reside within it, fulfill the needs and expectations of our community, and maintain financial viability.

In the mid-1990s, the Sacramento Zoo’s ability to maintain its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) was in jeopardy due to insufficient staffing and a lack of capital investment. Then, in 1997, the Sacramento Zoological Society (Society) signed a master operating agreement with the City to take over management of the zoo.  Since then, the Society has increased the staff and financial resources necessary to care for the now 94-year-old facility and its animal residents, as well as maintained AZA accreditation. The zoo is also consistently the highest-attended City amenity each year, by some margin. Even during the pandemic, the zoo has continued to be a source of joy and support for this community, being one of the first places to safely open up its doors this summer.

It is particularly noteworthy that the Society has managed these feats despite the City’s subsidy for the zoo decreasing 70 percent over the past decade. Yet even the Society’s model management of the zoo cannot avoid the inevitable.

Over the past 35 years, three master plans have been proposed for the zoo, but none have been completed. The common theme in these plans has been addressing the lack of parking and the AZA’s ever-increasing animal welfare requirements. Unfortunately, and precisely because these issues have not been addressed, the zoo has seen a drastic reduction in its animal collection over this same period.  Elephant, hippopotamus, tiger, polar bear, gorilla, sea lion, penguin and grizzly bear are just some of the animals that have left the zoo and, in all likelihood, will never return. It is also clear that this trend will necessarily continue, chipping away at the kinds of animals that can be housed at the current site – the very animals that make a zoo a zoo, and just as important, make people want to pay to visit one.

Moving the zoo to a new, larger site is the only way to address all of these issues. Relocating the zoo is also not a new or novel idea. In fact, it has been discussed repeatedly over the past thirty years, the last time being approximately 10 years ago when the City considered moving the zoo to Sutter’s Landing. The need to relocate the zoo has only grown more urgent over time, and the zoo simply cannot wait another decade for the subject to come up again, or for the City and its other partners to provide the resources needed to finally make this concept a reality.

This is why the Society applauds the City for completing its feasibility study and identifying a preferred site for relocation of the zoo in North Natomas Regional Park. The 50-acre site with an additional 10 acres for parking means the zoo can create new habitats for current species such as giraffe, lion and zebra, and also welcome back iconic animals like tiger and bear, all while meeting current – and future – AZA animal welfare requirements. When benchmarked against other similar sized-zoos such as Houston, Portland and Salt Lake City, we are also confident that the North Natomas Regional Park site will support our mission to protect and conserve animals, serve as an educational and community resource to the entire region, and be financially successful for many years to come.

Recognition of the zoo’s exemplary operation and value to this community is undeniably overdue. This is why the Sacramento Zoological Society Board of Trustees unanimously endorses the relocation of the Sacramento Zoo to North Natomas Regional Park, and requests that the City Council adopt the feasibility study and select North Natomas Regional Park to be the location for a new Sacramento Zoo. Selecting a specific location is critical to the zoo finally moving forward with its plan for relocation, and continuing to provide this community with the kind of educational and community resource it undeniably deserves.

The Sacramento Zoo is one of the city’s most beloved institutions. But after nearly a century spent welcoming millions of visitors and caring for thousands of animals, the zoo urgently requires significant capital improvements — and increased space— to meet the evolving standards of animal care, conservation and education required to be a viable and accredited zoological facility.

The Sacramento Zoo is proud to be one of only 230 institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. As an accredited facility, the zoo is held to stringent standards — including standards regarding the care we provide to our animals and the facilities in which they live. Due to the size and aged infrastructure of our nearly century-old facility, and changing AZA requirements for habitat size, the Sacramento Zoo has faced hard decisions with regard to housing a number of important and iconic animals in recent years — including hippopotamus, tiger, and bear.  As a result, you can no longer find these, or many of the other animal species you would typically expect to find at a world-class zoo, here in Sacramento.  It is also clear based on this trend that if the Sacramento Zoo continues to operate in its current location, it will have no reasonable choice but to become a niche zoo featuring a smaller variety of smaller animals.

The Sacramento Zoo believes that these animals and our community deserve better. Far more than a zoological park, the Sacramento Zoo is a non-profit organization devoted to saving species around the world.  Within California we support critical programs to save local species such as the western pond turtle and giant garter snake.   In Tanzania, we support scientists helping to save the giraffe from a silent extinction. And in Nepal, we help save red panda habitats. These are just a few ways in which the Sacramento Zoo, with this community’s support, participates in efforts to address the very real and critical threat to animals on this planet.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Stallard
Sacramento Zoological Society, Board President

Want to participate in the City Council meeting on Dec. 8 at 5 pm as a member of the public supporting the zoo’s relocation? 
Call (916) 808-7213 and Dial 5 to make a comment on Item 24.
OR
Email or leave a voicemail on the public comment phone line at (916) 808-5908.
City Council meetings are broadcast live on Metrocable, Channel 14, AT&T Broadband Cable System and/or rebroadcast on the Saturday following the date of the meeting. Live video streams and indexed archives of meetings are available via the internet. Visit the City’s official website.


5/29/2019 Update:

On May 28, the Sacramento City Council unanimously approved the zoo’s request for an in-depth study to further analyze the top tier sites identified for proposed zoo relocation. Once concluded, this site analysis and funding study will help us to take the next important step as we work to continue to fulfill the zoo’s mission of conservation and animal welfare and become a true 21st-century zoological institution. Stay tuned as we move forward with the site analysis and work to determine the best, most feasible location for the new, expanded Sacramento Zoo. We appreciate the overwhelming support of our community. We can’t create the new Sacramento Zoo without you!


The Sacramento Zoo is one of the city’s most beloved institutions. But after nearly a century spent welcoming millions of visitors and caring for thousands of animals, the zoo urgently requires significant capital improvements — and increased space— to meet the evolving standards of animal care, conservation and education required to be a viable and accredited zoological facility.

The Sacramento Zoo is proud to be one of only 230 institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. As an accredited facility, the zoo is held to stringent standards — including standards regarding the care we provide to our animals and the facilities in which they live. Due to the size and aged infrastructure of our nearly century-old facility, and changing AZA requirements for habitat size, the Sacramento Zoo has faced hard decisions with regard to housing a number of important and iconic animals in recent years — including hippopotamus, tiger, and bear.  As a result, you can no longer find these, or many of the other animal species you would typically expect to find at a world-class zoo, here in Sacramento.  It is also clear based on this trend that if the Sacramento Zoo continues to operate in its current location, it will have no reasonable choice but to become a niche zoo featuring a smaller variety of smaller animals.

The Sacramento Zoo believes that these animals and our community deserve better. Far more than a zoological park, the Sacramento Zoo is a non-profit organization devoted to saving species around the world.  Within California we support critical programs to save local species such as the western pond turtle and giant garter snake.   In Tanzania, we support scientists helping to save the giraffe from a silent extinction. And in Nepal, we help save red panda habitats. These are just a few ways in which the Sacramento Zoo, with this community’s support, participates in efforts to address the very real and critical threat to animals on this planet.

A larger facility would expand the zoo’s ability to promote conservation programs and bring world-class healthcare to endangered species, by accepting and treating a greater number of animals. The Sacramento Zoo has been an important institution to the city since 1927. Its partnership with UC Davis Veterinary Medicine in developing zoo medicine helped it receive global notice. As the school ranked number one by the two organizations that rank veterinary schools—US News & World Report and QS World University Rankings—UC Davis can help the zoo make the most of any expansion. Any animal brought to the zoo would receive the best care in the world.
Michael Lairmore, DVM, PhD, Dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

The truth is that many species, both iconic and lesser known, are facing incredible challenges in the wild.  There are less than 3500 tigers left in Asia, and by some estimates orangutans may be extinct in the wild within the next decade. Closer to home, the western pond turtle is also threatened with extinction. While we are incredibly proud of how we have been able to support conservation efforts to date, it is undeniable that our ability to do this good work is substantially limited by our current facilities. It goes without saying that a key component of conservation is educating our community about the challenges wildlife face and what each person can do to help save these incredible animals and their homes. There is no better way to do that than to give people personal experiences with animals they may never see in the wild, and in some cases would never even have heard of or cared about were it not for the education provided at the zoo. Our space constraints necessarily limit our ability to provide these opportunities. Another key component of the effort to save species is building capacity in our institutions to house and support rare and endangered species, including in family groups more in keeping with the experience these animals would have in the wild.  The zoo’s space constraints limit our ability to do this as well.

Wild Populations bar graph
Remaining individuals in the wild

 

Every animal has a story to tell. However, it is undeniable that even though the Sacramento Zoo has world-class conservation programs for reptiles and amphibians, our guests still often ask where our tiger went, what happened to our hippo, or why we do not have gorillas and rhinos. The reality is that these kinds of iconic species are the animals that bring guests to a zoo, and consequently help to save hundreds of other lesser-known species that might not have the same public draw.

With all of these concerns in mind, we looked carefully at three options for the future viability of the Sacramento Zoo: status quo; expansion of the existing site; and relocation. After an extensive evaluation of the zoo’s aged infrastructure, its 14-acre footprint, and the lack of parking, it became abundantly clear that the only viable option to meet the zoo’s mission and operational needs is relocation.

We then reached out to our City partners to begin exploring an exciting vision for the future of the Sacramento Zoo. The plans being discussed include a new, larger and more accessible location with modern, state-of-the-art animal care and guest experience facilities where wildlife will thrive and visitors can engage and learn about nature like never before.

Proposed Kids Nature Adventure Zone Rendering

Although we are admittedly in the early stages of this process, we have no doubt that such an effort would result in a world-class zoo for Sacramento that would both fulfill our mission and enrich the community as a whole. Imagine an African savannah larger than the entire current Sacramento Zoo, providing visitors an opportunity for a safari-type learning experience observing herds of giraffe, zebra, antelope, gazelle and other species living together as they do in nature; a world-class hippopotamus habitat with underwater viewing; and animals from lions and tigers to chimpanzees and gorillas living in large, complex and enriching habitats where visitors enjoy a more fulfilling and memorable zoo experience.  These and the other possible guest experiences would also showcase modern facilities providing exceptional care and homes for each of these – and hundreds of other – animals.

We do not know where this effort will take us, but we believe it is the only viable option for this zoo to meet its mission and serve this community.  We also know that we cannot do this without the community’s support. We welcome your questions, your feedback, and your support as we embark on this critical and exciting effort.


As you are likely aware, the Sacramento Zoo is exploring relocation and expansion within Sacramento city limits. While news of the most recent exploration broke in late 2018, this concept is nothing new to the zoo or to the City of Sacramento.

At various stages throughout the zoo’s history, the concept of relocation has been explored as part of an effort to ensure the zoo’s long-term viability as a vital conservation and education-based amenity for our region. In the 1980s, in 1996 and again in 2010, the need for a new, larger, modern Sacramento Zoo was explored by both the zoo and the City of Sacramento.

A 2010 feasibility study, commissioned by the City, delved deeper into the need for zoo relocation and several potential relocation sites within city limits. The study once again determined that a new, much-expanded and modern zoological facility was necessary to secure a viable future for the region’s zoo, and all that it stands for.

Fast-forward to 2018 when, at the City’s request, the Sacramento Zoo contracted to have an updated feasibility study done that would again examine the need and the potential for relocation and a reimagination of the Sacramento Zoo people have known and loved for generations.

The future of the Sacramento Zoo is predicated on obtaining a site large enough to accommodate 21st -Century standards for animal welfare and conservation, meeting the expectations of today’s visitors and of course, providing access to adequate parking. Among other things, such a site will allow for the return of some of the iconic animal species that the zoo has had to say farewell to over the years as these animal welfare standards have evolved. These key species, and providing space to accommodate their needs, is paramount to the Sacramento Zoo’s ability to fulfill its mission, realize its vision and become a premier destination for tourists, as well as a source of pride for local residents.


 

Hippo Exhibit Rendering

Rendering of proposed African forest habitats

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