The Thompson Zoo will be closed to the public from September until the spring of 2013, when it will re-open with a seasonal petting zoo and resume its community garden program, to enable construction of the Boreal Discovery Centre to begin, the Thompson Zoological Society announced in a press release on Aug. 24.
"This temporary move to a seasonal operation will allow us to operate within our means while continuing to provide service and value to the community," said Thompson Zoological Society chairperson Andrea Hatley in the release. "It will also enable us to move forward with the implementation of our new vision while we ensure our animals are looked after according to the country's top standards."
This seasonal schedule is expected to remain in place for four to five years, or until the Boreal Discovery Centre is complete. As a consequence, new homes will be found for the more than 80 animals that currently call the zoo home.
"There are certain realities that make it extremely difficult to operate the zoo in its present format, develop the Boreal Discovery Centre, do the necessary fundraising and move animals around to accommodate construction," Hatley said. "The size of our footprint is too small to enable us to carry out demolition and construction with the animals in place. We needed to find a humane and safe solution to caring for our animals during the construction period."
Dr. Bob Wrigley, former curator of the Assiniboine Park Zoo, has been contracted by the zoological society to find homes, primarily other zoos, that meet the Canadian Associations of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) standards for the animals currently housed at the Thompson Zoo.
The society's plan has been received favourably by the City of Thompson, said Hatley.
"The City of Thompson challenged the Thompson Zoological Society with the task of creating a more sustainable and up-to-date facility for residents of Thompson," said Mayor Tim Johnston. "The board of the zoological society has a challenging endeavour ahead of them and I applaud them for taking such a responsible step in the process."
After decades of financial shortfalls which were covered by the City of Thompson above and beyond the operational funding it provided for the zoo, the administration asked the Thompson Zoological Society in April 2011 to either become economically sustainable or lose the funding it was receiving, which was about $130,000 per year, not including an annual deficit of approximately $30,000.
Six months later, Hatley appeared before council to present the society's plan to create the Boreal Discovery Centre, a $3.8 million, 3,000-square-foot building to be located in the middle of the Thompson Zoo grounds. The centre will feature displays on wetland creatures, the skies and birds of prey, forest predators with a focus on wolves, a prey exhibit featuring moose and caribou, as well as a human connections exhibit. Exhibits will be housed in different rooms, but retractable walls will make it possible to enlarge the space for special events.
The Thompson Zoological Society projects a staff of 12 for the zoo and Boreal Discovery Centre, compared to three full-time employees and one part-time worker that the Thompson Zoo had in October 2011. It also predicts that the annual revenue will increase to $450,000 annually over its first seven years, as the Thompson Zoo changes from a free facility to one that charges an admission fee.
A 2008 report found that the zoo's crumbling infrastructure was eating up funding that could otherwise be used to benefit the animals.
"We saw evidence of the grounds not being maintained and some animals not being suitably cared for," said Oswald Sawh, council's representative on the zoological society, at that time.
The Thompson Zoo has been operating in Thompson since 1971, the result of an observation by Hawley Duncan that Thompson youngsters never got a chance to see farm animals.