So long, vampire bats: Zoo to close Night Exhibit March 1; can Batman come to the rescue?

   Scott Gifford two weeks ago thrust himself into the role of Batman — a guy who’s out to save the vampire bats, the armadillos, and his favorite nocturnal animal, the slow loris, from the surprise announced planned closure of Woodland Park Zoo’s Night Exhibit (a.k.a. Nocturnal House). He launched a Facebook campaign to try to change the minds of zoo officials. Nearly 25,000 people have joined. 

  Batman met his match on Wednesday.

  That’s when zoo officials announced a date — March 1 — for the exhibit’s closure as an effort to save $300,000 annually. They also announced which animals get to stay and which will get the boot.

  Gone from the zoo and being sent to new homes at other accredited places will be several animals from the 61-animal exhibit, including seven blind cave fish, two Coendou (prehensile-tailed porcupines), two Douroucoulis (“night monkeys”), two Galagos (“bushbabies”), one Tawny frogmouth, and these bats:

  *all 19 vampire bats

 * all 8 African straw-colored bats

 * the zoo’s sole Australian gray-headed bat.

“The good news is that we are able to keep several of the animals by moving them to other exhibits. Visitors still will be able to enjoy some of their favorites,” said zoo Deputy Director Bruce Bohmke in a press release. “While the zoo cannot accept donations to keep the Night Exhibit open,” he said, “we will accept donations for the long-term care and housing of the nocturnal animals that will be staying.”

  The animals that the zoo will keep and start displaying in their new homes two months later on May 1 are:

 

 * a pair of two-toed sloths, which will move to the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit

* all six Rodrigues Island fruit bats, which will move to the Adaptations Building

* tamanduas, which are small anteaters native to South America, and springhaas, which are small rodents native to southeastern Africa; they’ll move to the zoo’s Adaptations Building

* slow loris and pygmy loris, which will move to an off-exhibit area

* a three-banded armadillo will be used as a presentation animal for up-close education programs.

  These animals get to stay mainly because they’re active during daylight hours and not totally nocturnal, the zoo statement said.

  Gifford took the news in stride. Saddled with law-school debt, the recent grad nonetheless planned to make a $25 donation Wednesday night toward caring for the remaining Night Exhibit zoo animals.

  “It looks like they’re going to keep some of the animals, which I think is great,” said Gifford, a Normandy Park native, though he’s “disappointed that it’s closing, of course.” He takes it as a positive sign that zoo officials seem willing to evaluate what can be done with the closed nocturnal house to make it energy efficient or, failing that, possibly build a new one some day. 

  Gifford is surprised by the outpouring of concern.

  He thought only a few friends would join his Save the Woodland Park Nocturnal House Facebook page, which he put up after being told by a friend of the zoo’s Jan. 5 announcement of the intended closure. Nearly 25,000 people joined his page without any ads or much attention–”very grassroots, word-of-mouth sort of thing,” Gifford calls it.

 “It was quite shocking that this many people would take the time to join the group,…wrote letters, went to meet-ups,” Gifford said.  “I think it’s a tremendous amount of support.”

  Emotions flowed.

  “This is the best part of the zoo,” wrote Marshie Stallak on the Facebook page. “Indian elephants are a dime a dozen and are at most zoos, but this is something very unique.”

  Wrote Bridget Fayden: “Every time i go to the zoo i sit in this exhibit for an hour at least. I like the bats.”

  “…In the rainy NW it is one of the few exhibits one can visit when it is pouring out,” wrote Thalia Syracopoulos. “One thing to remodel the building, which it may well  need. Another thing to close it and deprive generations of the thrill of animals rarely seen.”

 Alluding to a different zoo controversy backed by actress Lily Tomlin, Alyne Fortgang exhorted: “Why don’t you ‘nocturnalists’ rally for the Nocturnal House by supporting the elephants release to the 2,700 acre Elephant Sanctuary? This is a yearly savings of $400,000.00 since The Elephant Sanctuary is picking up all costs. How can we deny the elephants’ suffering in less than 1 acre yard?”

  Gifford said he has had cordial chats with zoo officials about the desire to keep or return the Night Exhibit.“I think this was never sort of meant to be antagonistic toward the zoo,” Gifford said. “It was never meant to be anything other than people who love the zoo say, ‘Hey, we’re concerned about this.’”

  Batman’s work is not done. Gifford said he “will do what I can to spread the word about fundraising.” He wants to show zoo officials that proponents have a solid base of financial support to move forward — if not to save the exhibit, “which unfortunately is looking less and less likely,” then to build a new energy-efficient one. So far, donations or pledges that Gifford knows about have been in the $20 to $100 range. Zoo spokeswoman Gigi Allianic also was unaware of any big checks. (“We received only a few donations under $500 toward keeping the exhibit open,” Allianic said. “We are going to ask these donors if they’re willing to re-direct their donation toward the long-term care and housing of the Night Exhibit animals that will remain at the zoo.”)

  “It’s all been a shock, but a lot of fun, and I think a good cause,” Gifford said, looking back at his two-week-old campaign, “and something that I think a lot of people didn’t know about.”

  Will Batman ultimately succeed? Stay tuned.

 

 FURTHER READING:

 Sign of the times: Bats pink-slipped from money-pinched WP Zoo; fans try to come to rescue

 Fans try to save zoo’s Nocturnal House; zoo indicates there’s no hope

 

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