Fort Worth Zoo raises $90 million for new exhibits

Four giraffes strolled around a large, enclosed area behind Ardon Moore, the president of the Fort Worth Zoological Association, as he announced the Fort Worth Zoo’s new $100 million capital campaign called “A Wilder Vision.”

“As you know, the zoo likes to think big and bold, but that is big and bold even for us,” Moore said.

The zoo’s chief fundraiser Ramona Bass raised $90 million of the $100 million campaign before the announcement.

Moore said the money so far has come from private donors.

“Due to the generosity of a lot of families, foundations, and individuals in Fort Worth who continue to be so supportive of the zoo and of Fort Worth in general, we’re happy to announce today that out of that $100 million, we have raised $90 million,” Moore said.

A Wilder Vision, a new initiative at the zoo, will be implemented in multiple stages. The first stage, “African Savannah,” is projected to open in 2018.

“Savannah will imitate the natural ecosystem of east Africa where diverse species roam freely together with one of what we hope to be the largest giraffe herd in the nation,” said the zoo’s executive director Michael Fouraker.

One giraffe looked on intently while Fouraker described the zoo’s plan to have an observation deck where guests will stand eye to eye with the giraffes and feed them.

Bass fed a giraffe herself at the event and invited others to join her.

Ramona Bass feeds giraffes at Fort Worth Zoo
A taste of what’s to come: Ramona Bass feeds giraffes at Fort Worth Zoo

“We began this plan quite a number of years ago,” Bass said. “Most importantly, the births of our two baby elephants and our incredible breeding success with the southern black rhinos–one of the most critically endangered mammals–necessitated this plan. We really didn’t have a choice.”

The second stage, “Elephant Springs,” is projected to open in 2020.

Fouraker said “Elephant Springs” will have a 500,000-gallon pool for the elephants.

“‘Elephant Springs’ will nearly triple the size of our endangered Asian elephant herd,” Fouraker said. “And this is so important because Asian elephants are critically endangered.”

Additionally, the zoo plans to move and improve the lion exhibit and renovate “Asian Predators” by 2022.

“We’re going to be adding cheetahs, African leopards, wild dogs, and it will all be located around this lion exhibit,” Fouraker said. “And then a renovated Asian predators, striped hyenas and tigers, will be joined by clouded leopards and other Asian bird species.”

Moore publicly thanked city officials who made the campaign possible, including Mayor Betsy Price, City Manager David Cooke, and Parks Director Richard Zavala before he introduced Bass.

“Most of y’all are wondering how in the heck do you raise $90 million in a $100 million campaign. Do you have a superhero?” Moore said. “We do. We have a superwoman. I couldn’t get her to put on her cape today: Ramona Bass.”

The Fort Worth Zoo charity was given a score of 86.76 out of 100 by Charity Navigator because it spends 80.5 percent of the money raised on the programs and services it delivers and 16 percent on administrative expenses.

The score is based on accountability, transparency, and financial performance.

“We are now embarking on really the most important part of the campaign, and that is the public completion phase,” Moore said. “The community completion phase is so important to us because frankly, we would not be here without the public. This is their zoo, and we are here because of them in partnership with the city to manage that zoo for them.”

The Zoo Association presents a model of their plan for African Savannah
The Fort Worth Zoological Association presents a model of their plan for “African Savannah.”