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POLL: Are you over Zoo Atlanta’s pandas?

Xi Lan was born Aug. 30, 2008. In this recent photo, he lounges in his favorite spot in Zoo Atlanta's panda enclosure. His big sister, Mei Lan, will soon head back to China. Vino Wong/AJC

For years now, the biggest draw to Zoo Atlanta has been its black-and-white fuzzballs, a pair of panda parents and their Atlanta-born offspring, Mei Lan and Xi Lan. This is no surprise. There are 13 captive pandas in the United States and we’ve got four of them. It’s incredibly special.

But now the Grant Park zoo is trying to raise $500,000 more to keep them, rather than sending them back to China when the lease ends. An AJC story, “Fund-raising lags to keep pandas in Atlanta,” says even the undisputed stars of the local animal kingdom aren’t a big moneymaker right now:

With $2 million already pledged from corporations and foundations, the zoo went public with its “Give So They Stay” campaign in mid-June, and has raised $59,000. That’s roughly a tenth of the goal, but no one seems fazed, at least not yet, since a still-to-be-negotiated deal with the Chinese government would not kick in until 2010.

Is it the economy? All the other cultural institutions vying for donations? Or have we just had enough?

Are you over Zoo Atlanta's pandas?

View Results

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Regardless of whether they’ve gotten too much attention, they’re adorable, and I’m a willing sucker. Check out this slideshow of the day in the life of an Atlanta panda. I have a very hard time watching without trying to scratch a panda belly through my computer screen.

Want to go? Zoo Atlanta is open 9:30-5:30 p.m. every Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday except Thanksgiving and Christmas days. $13.99-$18.99. Children ages 2 and younger are free. The zoo is located at 800 Cherokee Ave. SE in Atlanta’s Grant Park. For more information call (404) 624-9453 or visit www.zooatlanta.org.

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17 comments Add your comment

[...] campaign with a name that implied the community might lose something special if, in fact, there was no way that was going to happen. There’s no way to say that money raised for pandas would have gone to any of the other [...]

concerned

July 28th, 2009
4:47 pm

The problem is, the zoo wants to raise money to keep the pandas here, but they are having more serious budget issues. They have cut back on medical and food supplies for the other animals; they have laid-off employees; and they have put hiring freezes on keeper positions. This is an atrocity that zoo management is attempting to raise money to keep pandas and yet they are not taking adequate care of the other animals. This is a sentiment that is shared by the majority of the keeper staff. Yes, the zoo answers to the USDA, but the USDA is understaffed. Inspections are infrequent, the inspector shows up at the zoo office and phone calls are placed to all departments to let them know the inspector is on grounds, the veterinary staff escorts the inspector around, thus taking them to certain areas first and allowing the animal areas to straighten up to prepare for the visit. If an inspection were to take place today, the keeper staff would not dare raise the issues of medicine or food to the inspectors for fear of losing their jobs. So, should the pandas stay? You be the judge, but the majority of the keepers I have spoken with at Zoo Atlanta don’t think so.

Jamie Gumbrecht

July 25th, 2009
1:45 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, everybody. Really interesting variety of perspectives. The (deeply unscientific) poll results are an interesting mix, too. As always, will keep you updated.

Jeremy

July 24th, 2009
11:26 pm

Being critically endangered, attention is what they need…they do need help.

Seems like a tough task to fundraise for animals during an economic low, especially when the prospect of things getting better seems a long way off. But just a small donation by many people can make a huge difference. They are worth the price of admission.

Cheryl

July 23rd, 2009
11:28 pm

John, I don’t have the figures, but they are probably held in the offices of Zoo Atlanta..as clm said, not sure how easy it would be to get them. BUT in regards to the reptile house..it’s old and outdated in the least. Why would you want the animals to be in places that were “appropriate” in 1975 anyway? That’s the reason zoos have changed so much in the last few decades..Please continue to support the zoo as long as you can, but also try to enjoy the animals in the natural settings they belong in, or as close as possible in the space Zoo Atlanta has.

clm

July 23rd, 2009
8:33 am

Most of the money for the Pandas goes to China. The actual conservation is supposed to take place there, but most of the Pandas in China are in captivity. As for Zoo Atlanta, it is land-locked and cannot expand. It seems to me they are trying to crowd more animals in the inadequate space they have – Warthogs, MeerKats, etc. Good luck trying to get copies of their finanacial records. The Open Records Laws in the State of Georgia are very restrictive.

EA

July 22nd, 2009
5:13 pm

Well, for starters, all four USA zoos with pandas raised money after the 5.12 Sichuan Earthquake in 2008 to help after the one of the two main breeding and research centers was destroyed. I believe in excess of $200,000 was raised.

In addition, each USA zoo is involved at its own expense in research that is beneficial to the pandas. Each zoo has an area it concentrates in. Memphis Zoo, for example, concentrates on nutritional issues related to pandas. What I find interesting is that Atlanta doesn’t seem to regard the pandas as anything special, nor does it seem to support its zoo. Visit the Memphis Zoo sometime and everywhere you look is a donor’s name, and there are also new exhibits coming online all the time. This fall Memphis will open a Grand Teton exhibit with elk and 5 orphaned grizzly bear cubs complete with a waterfall and stream the bears wade in to catch their fish dinner. After that opens, a new Hippo Camp will be built. San Diego’s Zoo just opened their huge Elephant Odyssey. When San Diego needed a new $100,000 bamboo cooler for their pandas, their supporters raised the money in about two weeks through an online appeal.

I am sure there are annual reports available from Zoo Atlanta that outline how funds are spent. Their Administration Building is right up front at the parking lot and you can drop by and ask there. But I bet that’s too much effort in a town that seems so disinterested in such a valuable asset.