It's a sad day for Las Vegas: our city zoo has closed. One of the tragedies is that a city our size can't support and sustain a zoo. The second shock is that this was a private facility, with no government funding, surviving on donations from the public and local business. The greatest tragedy, is, of course, the fate of the animal residents.
The Zoo was largely unknown, even by local residents. It was located in a strange urban space on North Rancho, with just a big white fence indicating its presence. It wasn't a bad little zoo, from an outsider's perspective, but it seemed vaguely strange that so few people would know about it, and even more so that on both visits the animals seemed sad and lost in a space that should have been designed specifically with their needs in minds. It really came as no surprise that the exodus of all 3 zookeepers within the last two weeks has caused its ultimate demise. And why did they quit? Because, according to all sources, they simply couldn't deal with a director who would not listen to and heed their concerns!
According to reports, the head keeper quit and her two trainees quit shortly afterward, citing the zoo's director, Pat Dingle, as the cause. After they left, the Department of Agriculture was contacted. Mr. Dingle had closed the gate due to "upgrading" or, as it is now know, due to a visit from USDA inspectors and Las Vegas Animal Control on Tuesday. No one knows how the animals survived without food since last Friday since no one had been feeding them. Countless local residents had enough concern for the well-being of the animals and the presence of mind to bring the zoo's state to the attention of the proper authorities, recently and over the years. When one source contacted Mr. Dingle, he swore at her and hung up in her ear. This is professionalism?
This was the little zoo that should have survived, despite desert temperatures and fluctuations in climate. It was a zoo that was located in a major urban center teeming with money, casinos, businesses, millionaires and, dare I say it, billionaires. This city teems with animal lovers and those concerned with their treatment. It was a zoo that permitted school children to see animals close up and personal, and which boasted some fascinating creatures and adequate displays. It should have been provided with government funding, should have been located in a prime location like every other zoo in every other city. There is no excuse for an event such as this in Las Vegas.
The USDA and Mr. Dingle are now trying to place all the animals. It won't be easy, especially for the poor chimpanzee. If Pat Dingle gives up his exhibitor's license, the USDA loses their jurisdiction, so they have to act quickly to provide for the animals residents.
We have visited the zoo twice, once about six years ago and again last year. The animals looked well cared for but they seemed rather listless. Some of the enclosures seemed inadequate in the summer heat and boring for the animals, but the wallabees and birds appeared to be healthy and as feisty as ever. The keepers seemed to genuinely care for their charges and the wallabees adored their caregiver. That much was obvious. I spent about an hour talking to the lion quietly outside his cage. He seemed so sad lying in the shadows but since lions feel the loss of a mate deeply, that wasn't a surprise. I was able to get right beside him and sit on the ground next to his cage, chatting with him as he 'whoofed' and responded. I couldn't have done that at any other zoo. The Barbary ape, secluded from his family because of behavior issues, seemed frustrated and angry, baring his teeth and hooting a warning. On both occasions we almost had the run of the place, with few people enjoying the animals. I have found since that very few people knew of the zoo's existence.
Why did the zoo fail? Was it due to the stubborn dictatorship of a director that had no idea how to run a zoo, or was it due to lack of funding and apathy by Las Vegas residents and businesses. How quickly they swarmed to decry the animals' treatment once the facility was closed. Where were these people when the little zoo was struggling to survive? Why did the zoo limp along for so long when it obviously couldn't keep up with the needs of its animal residents? So many questions and so few answers. Perhaps Mr. Dingle did the best he could for as long as he could, his head in the clouds and his focus on the future rather than the present. But where is the future now? It's difficult to imagine Las Vegas without a zoo. It's a blight on our city that we can't afford, or won't care enough, to give some of the vast amounts of cash generated by our casinos and industries to building a zoo that we can be proud of. Or did the plans to make this a 'Family Oasis' die some five years past once the casinos decided that wasn't generating enough revenue?
It's time to get our own heads out of the clouds and place our feet firmly on the ground. We have lion and dolphin habitats, animals sanctuaries, a beautiful new Children's Museum, overwhelmingly beautiful casinos, historic sites, a Mob Museum, aquariums rivaling any in the country and so much more. Why not an environmentally controlled indoor and outdoor zoo that would be the pride of our city?