Fund-raising efforts to move Walk in the Wild’s animals to a new zoo at Silverwood Theme Park have failed, officials said Wednesday.
The Inland Northwest Zoological Society said its members could not come up with the $2 million needed to start building the proposed zoo at Silverwood.
Instead, the 20 or so animals left at the zoo in the Spokane Valley will be sent to other zoos. The four keepers there will lose their jobs.
Feeding and caring for the animals was too expensive, said society board member Don Thie. Sending the animals away allows the society to focus solely on getting the money needed to build a new zoo.
“It’s a loss to the region,” Thie said. “But we hope it will be a temporary loss. It was purely a financial decision, and it was a difficult one to make.”
Walk in the Wild closed to the public Dec. 31, making Spokane the only city of its size in the country without a zoo, Thie said. The move saved some money, but funds for caring for the remaining animals had to be borrowed, and that cut into the society’s fund-raising drive.
The society has only a quarter of the money needed to build the Cedar Mountain Zoological Park at Silverwood, located about 15 miles north of Coeur d’Alene.
A March fund-raising campaign that included letters to North Idaho residents and businesses didn’t come close to raising the necessary cash to build the first stage of the park.
“It’s been very difficult for us to get the money,” Thie said. “For a community to have a zoo, it really requires both local municipalities and local government bodies to step up and agree that it’s a necessary thing for the citizens.”
Silverwood owner Gary Norton pledged the land and a variety of help for the society, including building materials and labor. All told, Silverwood has agreed to contribute services worth $500,000 to the new zoo.
That commitment has not changed, said Dan Aylward, Silverwood’s president and general manager. “We’re still willing to work with everyone.”
Many theme parks around the country are adding zoos or animal exhibits because of their popularity, Aylward said. Adding a zoo at Silverwood would be a good way for the park to grow.
The two parties discussed shipping some of the animals to the park this year for temporary exhibits, but those plans fizzled. Talk of having Norton take the animals and start the zoo with his own money failed to make financial sense, Aylward said.
Most of the animals at the zoo were on loan from other zoos. The two valuable snow leopards came from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, and will return there soon, Thie said.
“We’re going to make absolutely sure that the animals will go to suitable facilities that meet zoological standards,” Thie said.
Starting a new zoo from scratch won’t be too difficult and likely won’t raise the price of the new facility, Thie said.
“We can replace most of the animals for a reasonable cost,” he said. “Animals like the snow leopards are harder to come by.”
Silverwood offered its land and financial help last July, after a deal fell through to give Spokane County the land on which Walk in the Wild is located. Land owner Inland Empire Paper Co. wanted to give the land to the county, but the county couldn’t assure the company that the land would be used for “recreational” purposes.
The company allowed the society to continue keeping its animals on the land as long as it looked for a new site.
While Silverwood remains the primary choice for a new zoo, the society will consider other ways of building a new zoo in the region, Thie said.
The society will continue raising money for a new zoo, wherever it may be located, and running its animal advocacy programs, Thie said.