Visit Zoo Boise, save some wildlife

The facility's director transforms the meaning of a trip to see animals

rbarker@idahostatesman.comMay 2, 2013 


    To celebrate reaching $1 million in conservation donations, Zoo Boise will host a Wildlife Conservation Expo from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Boise State University Student Union.

    Conservation groups such as the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, which has been helping monitor wolverines in northern Idaho, will make 20-minute presentations about projects that received money from the Zoo Boise Conservation Fund.

    Phil Hough, executive director of the Scotchman Peaks group, said the $29,000 it got in 2012 paid for 27 motion-activated cameras and the cost of hiring a coordinator to oversee their installation high in the Cabinet Mountains in winter. Last year, his group managed 40 stations with 147 volunteers who put in 2,000 hours.

    The group found additional funding to continue this year, even though Zoo Boise's funding ended.

    "It's safe to say we wouldn't be able to do it this year if not for their donation last year," Hough said.

    Fourteen groups will make presentations; some will sell items to raise money.

    The chance to speak directly to people who support their work is yet another way Zoo Boise is helping, Hough said: "That's just a fabulous way to do conservation."

    Conservation partners participating in the expo include:

    • Center for Ecosystem Survival (rainforests)

    • College of Idaho (Southern Idaho ground squirrels)

    • Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (wolverines)

    • International Rhino Foundation

    • Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project

    • New Nature Foundation (chimpanzees)

    • Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo (lemurs)

    • The Peregrine Fund (Andean condors)

    • Snow Leopard Trust

    • Turtle Survival Alliance (radiated tortoises)

    • University of Idaho (pygmy rabbits)

    • Wildlife SOS (sloth bears)

    • Wildlife Conservation Society (Amur tigers)

    • Zoo Conservation Outreach Group (three-wattled bellbird)

    • Special video presentation about Gorongosa National Park

    Wildlife Conservation Expo tickets are $9 general admission, $7 for students. Tickets are available at, or call 384-4125, ext. 209; email Programs are suitable for children 8 and older.

Every one of Zoo Boise's 325,000 visitors annually commits an act of conservation.

With their extra 50 cents for a ticket or $5 for a season pass, zoo-goers have contributed nearly $1 million in support of projects to conserve wildlife - from wolverines in Idaho to lemurs in Madagascar.

In 2008, Zoo Boise became the first in the nation to charge a conservation fee. Today more than 12 percent of its revenue goes to conservation, a high bar set for other zoos to match. The program has brought the zoo international attention for its leadership in changing roles in preserving the species that zoos display.

Steve Burns, Zoo Boise director, is the visionary who started it all.

"We changed the definition of the word zoo: a place with a collection of animals on display for the public for the primary purpose of conservation and generating funds for the conservation of animals in the wild," Burns said.

"Zoo Boise has really taken a leadership position by showing how a zoo can be an engine of conservation," said Steve Feldman, a spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. "The innovative way they've done that has inspired others to do more."


Visitors help protect disappearing wild species when they pay $3 to feed the giraffes and the sloth bear. When they take a boat ride, they do more conservation. When they buy feed to give to the sheep and goats, they support field-conservation programs.

When a new exhibit is built, 10 percent of the cost goes to field conservation. The new Patas monkey exhibit will generate $20,000 for the Yankari National Reserve, where the monkeys live in Nigeria.

That will put the zoo over $1 million.


Burns, 47, was the executive director of Friends of Zoo Boise, the nonprofit foundation that supported the zoo, before the city tapped the Boisean to run the zoo and the foundation in 2001.

His inspiration about directing resources toward conservation came when he began to recognize how many traditional zoo animals - tigers, rhinos and giraffes among them - have populations that are declining. There are more people in Idaho, he said, than there are top zoo animals left in the wild in the world - elephants, chimpanzees, hippos, orangutans, pandas, polar bears and lions.

Burns is the chairman of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums field conservation committee, which has encouraged more of the AZA's members to support conservation. In 2011, 184 of its 241 accredited institutions and related facilities spent $160 million on more than 2,670 conservation initiatives in more than 100 countries.

It used to be that zoos were viewed as places dedicated to inspiring people and educating people to care for animals.

"That's just not enough anymore," Burns said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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