Strange Noises at the Zoo

February 12, 1992

What's the fighting, sniffing, strutting, braying and carping about at the Baltimore Zoo?

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke are acting like rival bucks attempting to show dominance in mating season. Mr. Schaefer wants to grab Mr. Schmoke's zoo. Mr. Schmoke wants to keep the zoo but have Mr. Schaefer pay for it. Or something like that. Some keeper should put them in the same cage until they smooth over their differences. Especially if they ever hope to persuade hostile legislators to give the zoo a helping hand. The General Assembly, after all, is a jungle.

The Baltimore Zoological Society operates the zoo within a city park. It took over operations from the city but has not yet vTC become as self-sufficient as older zoological societies with more corporate headquarters and more patrons. Baltimore's zoo is not as well-stocked as some others, and therefore has not drawn as many patrons. But it is improving dramatically, if too slowly for advocates.

The current fashion in zoo exhibitions is for large areas that are more humane for species found together in the wild, and that artistically simulate habitats. A lot of dollars go into fake rock. But the horticultural habitat simulation, at which the Baltimore Zoo is much improved, and proper medical and dietary care for the animals, are relentless operational costs that rise as the zoo improves.

Zoos, like other educational and cultural organizations, suffer in recessions because all sources of support -- government, corporate, individual and revenue -- dry up simultaneously, like sahelian flora in desertification. Without superhuman effort, none compensates for the others.

The Baltimore Zoo is a priceless amenity for the entire region. Its funding embarrassment, shared properly with all agencies that require city and state support, threatens the planned opening of the African plains exhibit underwritten by state, city and private contributions.

Governor Schaefer and Mayor Schmoke had better make sure their territorial instincts do not jeopardize the zoo they both cherish. If they are put in a cage it should be a large one with areas of sun and shade, plenty of naturalistic furniture behind which to hide, lots of room for exercise and gentle, soft, clean dirt under foot. As in other matters, the best way for each to regard the other is to say, as should any human contemplating another great ape, "What if our roles were reversed?"

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