Felix the elephant is having a baby, and the newest addition to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore can't arrive soon enough. With new leadership, a strong base of state funding and reduced ticket prices, the zoo in Druid Hill Park is poised for resurgence. An infusion of corporate dollars would greatly help it along, even with a new pachyderm in the house.
The zoo, which reopened this weekend for the season, is a 132-year-old institution that's been showing its age for some time; its facilities are many and its maintenance needs too often deferred.
Recognizing the zoo's potential, the state last year increased its support from $3.9 million to nearly $10 million to put it on a solid financial ground. Steady increases have followed, and the state also has provided money for the zoo's capital projects. The city contributes about $600,000, and Baltimore County kicks in another $250,000. It's a public asset that deserves to be supported.
The zoo's primary expense - the care and feeding of its animals - remains fairly fixed. But like the city in which it's located, the zoo has infrastructure that needs attention - a water treatment system and 55 buildings, for starters, says the zoo's new president, Donald P. Hutchinson, who until recently headed the Greater Baltimore Committee. Maryland corporations and businesses could help by underwriting a particular maintenance project. Or they could provide a grant that would significantly lower ticket prices, just as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was able to discount a subscription series.
The zoo is doing its part by cutting ticket prices this month and next by 20 percent to make it more affordable for visitors. Spiffing up the zoo would go a long way toward keeping them coming back. As Simon and Garfunkel crooned, "It's all happening at the zoo."