Ehrlich looking to find zoo help

He asks Md. budget chief to study financial aid, seeks private funding

November 13, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he has asked Budget Secretary James C. "Chip" DiPaula to look into ways the state may be able to help the financially ailing Baltimore Zoo and that he may try to tap the private sector to help.

Asked at a news conference whether he might be able to help the Baltimore institution avoid having to farm out its only two elephants to other zoos, Ehrlich noted that the state is in a fiscal squeeze but didn't shut the door entirely.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do from the state perspective, but Chip is working on it," the governor said.

Ehrlich also said he might contact "the usual suspects from the private sector" to help underwrite the zoo's programs.

The governor's remarks followed a statement by Comptroller William Donald Schaefer earlier yesterday thanking Ehrlich for looking at ways to help the zoo. Schaefer said he, too, believes help for the zoo may be coming from private sources.

Zoo officials said last week that they would have to lend out Dolly and Anna, two beloved African elephants, because of a $700,000 cut in state aid. The reductions have also cost the zoo 20 jobs and could force the removal of about 400 reptiles, amphibians and birds.

While the governor's comments were short on specifics, they were enough to cheer zoo President Billie Grieb.

"It sounds like good news to me. I think it's wonderful," she said. "I'm appreciative that the governor and the comptroller are working on our behalf in several arenas. I think that's a terrific show of support."

Ehrlich's comments followed his statement during an appearance on Maryland Public Television on Monday night that the institution should be thought of as "the Maryland Zoo."

Press spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said Ehrlich was not proposing a name change but expressing a view that the institution should be thought of as a "zoo for all Marylanders."

The expected cuts to the zoo's programs have alarmed supporters of the Druid Hill Park destination - one of whom called the MPT program to express concern to the governor.

Zoo officials expect to save more than $100,000 by lending out the elephants because it will save on the salaries of the four zookeepers who care for them almost exclusively. In all, the zoo is planning cuts of more than $1 million to cope with the loss of state aid and other misfortunes.

Grieb said that if the zoo didn't make the cuts it would have to go out of business early next year.

With a $700 million budget shortfall, and facing the need to make painful cuts in health programs for people, DiPaula may have few options to help the nation's third-oldest zoo.

Grieb said she expected that any help would come in the form of a public-private partnership.

The zoo president said there has been an outpouring of support in the wake of last week's publicity - with $125,000 in donations and new memberships in the past week. Most of that money has come in the form of small donations, she said.

"So far, no big financial angels, but we're hoping," she said.

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