It’s a beacon that has shined in our community for nearly a century. Transformed from a small menagerie of cages in the 1920s into thematic trails with waterfalls, giant rocks, and natural landscapes, the Alexandria Zoo has bloomed into a wondrous community treasure and a home and haven for both creatures great and small. This profound transformation did not come easily or quickly. It was forged through the tireless dedication and perseverance of countless individuals. Now, more than ever, the Zoo is counting on that continued support.
On August 27th, Alexandria Zoo became a casualty of Hurricane Laura. The storm’s fierce winds unleashed a devastation not seen in the Zoo’s nearly 100-year history. Thankfully, all of Alexandria Zoo’s living creatures, both animals and staff, came through the hurricane safely. But the zoo’s landscape is another story. For much of the night, the zoo saw little damage. As the designated storm ride-out crew made rounds overnight, only smaller limbs and one tree had fallen throughout the zoo. However, beginning in the six o’clock hour, the winds raged with a vengeance that snapped, twisted, and toppled more than 50 mature trees across the campus.
The damage affected more than 20 animal habitats, countless fences, several roofs, and completely blocked passage of most of the trails. No area of the zoo escaped damage. The worst path of devastation stretched in a line from the playground to the cougar habitat, tumbling trees like dominoes and sparing no habitat in its wake.
As staff and volunteers continue to clear the mountains of debris from Hurricane Laura, the vast scope of the damage continues to emerge. It will take years, and perhaps even decades, to recover the loss of the Zoo’s mature trees, one of the most defining aspects of the Zoo’s lush, shady landscape. The cougar, cassowary, Chinese alligator, iguana, and Australian Walkabout habitats will require extensive rebuilds. The lowland anoa, maned wolf, howler monkey, muntjac, giant anteater, Andean bear, red river hog, Australian waterfowl, and cavy/agouti habitats all also suffered structural damage.
Many of these habitats have been temporarily fixed to get the animals’ lives back to normal as quickly as possible, but will require permanent repairs in the future. The Zoo’s resident cougars, Jack and Diane, will make a temporary home at the Baton Rouge Zoo until their habitat can be rebuilt. Other species, like the cassowary, howler monkey family, and Chinese alligator have been relocated into other habitats around the zoo.
Community has always been at the heart of the Zoo’s mission. Alexandria Zoo is unceasingly dedicated to animal care and conservation and providing fun, engaging educational and recreational opportunities for our citizens. It is that community, despite facing its own challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic and Hurricane Laura, that has rallied together to aid our beloved zoo with this enormous endeavor.
“It’s with sincere gratitude that we thank both our Central Louisiana community and our zoo community for their assistance during these trying times,” said Interim Zoo Director Lisa Laskoski. Over the course of two weeks, staff from Audubon Zoo, Baton Rouge Zoo, Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo of New Braunfels, Texas, The San Antonio Zoo, The Indianapolis Zoo, Zoological Disaster Response, Rescue and Recovery (ZDR3), and Petron, L.L.C. worked tirelessly alongside our team with the clean-up and restoration efforts. Fellow City of Alexandria departments, including Electric Distribution, Recreation, Urban Forestry, Engineering, Legal, and Planning have also provided assistance with the restoration and clean-up.
The Zoo is also grateful for the monetary donations from our community and beyond. “No other single place in Central Louisiana has brought joy and wonderment to more children than the Alexandria Zoo,” said film producer and local resident Shaun Sanghani. “The Zoo is a cornerstone of our community and an educational retreat for all children, regardless of their race or income.” One of the ways the community has come together is through a #TeamJackAndDiane tee shirt sale through the month of September. For a nominal donation, supporters had the opportunity to order specially designed shirts, featuring the silhouette of a jaguar on the back, with “Alexandria Zoo Strong” emblazoned on both sides. The limited edition t-shirts, which sold out in by pre-order, will hit the streets this month, so keep your eye out and give a “Thanks!” to its proud owner for their contribution!
“It’s apparent that our Zoo now needs the support of the community it has served for so many years, and we wanted to help preserve one of the jewels of our city so it could continue to enrich the lives of our children in Central Louisiana,” said Sanghani. Between the shutdown caused by COVID-19 and the immense amount of damage sustained from Hurricane Laura, the Zoo needs the continued support of the community to aid in its recovery efforts. “It doesn’t matter how much someone can give, but I urge all the local folks who have enjoyed the Zoo at one time or another to give whatever they can because as a community, we can make a real difference.”
Alexandria Zoo is accepting tax-deductible donations through our support organization, Friends of the Alexandria Zoo (FOTAZ), a 501(c)3 non-profit. In addition to tax-deductible recovery donations, annual FOTAZ memberships do more than just help rebuild the Zoo while saving you money. Did you know that $5.00 of every membership goes to conservation efforts? As members, you are partners in protecting wildlife and wild places.
On behalf of Alexandria Zoo, FOTAZ contributes thousands of dollars each year to field conservation efforts around the globe. In Latin America, FOTAZ supports select Zoo Conservation Outreach Group (ZCOG) field partnerships each year. ZCOG promotes wildlife and habitat conservation by developing conservation leadership capacity in Latin American zoological institutions and providing direct technical, material, and financial support to collaborative, zoo and aquarium-based conservation programs. Species include the jaguar, Andean bear, Andean condor, Chilean flamingo, giant anteater, maned wolf and Brazilian tapir.
Through FOTAZ, the Zoo also supports conservation efforts in Asia, Africa, and North America, including the Tiger Conservation Campaign and Lion Recovery Fund. The Tiger Conservation Campaign is coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Tiger Species Survival Plan and supports projects that benefit wild Amur, Malayan, and Sumatran tigers. The Lion Recovery Fund’s goal is to double the number of lions by 2050 by targeting protected landscapes so that they are resourced and managed to help lions, their habitats and prey, and people thrive.
For one low price, FOTAZ members enjoy free regular daytime admission to Alexandria Zoo for one year. Members also receive special discounted pricing on select Zoo events, classes, birthday parties, Zootique purchases, and more, along with free or discounted admission to over 100 other zoos and aquariums nationwide. By becoming a member of FOTAZ, you’ll be helping the Alexandria Zoo roar back to life while making wonderful family memories that will last a lifetime!
Donations can be made online at www.thealexandriazoo.com through FOTAZ’s PayPal Giving Fund charity page. Checks can be made out to Friends of the Alexandria Zoo and mailed to 3016 Masonic Drive, Alexandria, LA 71301.
We’ve made a lot of progress with the clean-up, but we have a long road ahead. “Currently, there is no timetable for reopening,” said Laskoski. “However, we are working as safely and quickly as possible to welcome you back to the Zoo. We miss all of our guests and the animals do, too!” With your help, we will rebuild, replant, and continue roaring forward!