This project began in 1992 based on a request from the Municipality of Asunción and the Botanical and Zoological Garden Foundation in Asunción for assistance in the development of a Master Plan for the extant zoo in the Jardin Botánico. The Sunset Zoo appeared to be in an ideal position developmentally and functionally to provide such assistance. Thus, in 1994 a Sister Zoo relationship was established between Sunset Zoo and the Asunción Zoo; with the blessing of both CPK/KPP and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national accrediting entity for legitimate zoos in the country.
In March of 1994 I spent one month in Paraguay consulting with architects, members of the municipality’s Directorate of the Environment and Foundation & Zoo officials. While this was an official CPK/KPP project, it differed in that funding for that initial visit and a follow-up visit in 1995 was provided by the Foundation and the Municipality. The 1995 visit was made by Mike Quick, then General Curator at Sunset Zoo who developed a Master Plan in concert with the Architects. They also prepared an Operating and Husbandry Manual for use by the zoo administration. Funding of all subsequent yearly visits on zoo operational matters was provided by the Friends of Sunset Zoo, the Sedgwick County Zoo (to which Mike Quick subsequently moved), and the Paraguay Conservation Action Partnership (CAP Paraguay) of the AZA, which is headquartered at Sunset Zoo.
An ancillary Education Project under CAP Paraguay was initiated with zoo educators from Topeka Zoo, Sunset Zoo and Sedgwick County Zoo providing workshops for teachers in public schools and institutes in Paraguay as well as providing new signage for zoo exhibits. This project was supported by t he CPK and funded strongly by KPP through the PoA Education and Culture Grant program as well as by CAP Paraguay and the zoos involved. It is a separate aspect from the focus of this report.
In 1994, the Asunción Zoo was a place which citizens of the city refused to visit owing to smells, poor housing and inadequate husbandry for the animals and generally very poor environmental conditions. Over the intervening 13 years from 1994 to 2007, there were inconsistent improvements: some years the zoo moved ahead significantly, others it moved significantly backwards. Much of the problem lay in the lack of direction by zoo and municipal officials, lack of consistency in zoo administration and perceived directional competencies, lack of funding and especially lack of understanding of the value of the zoo. Incidentally, these facts were recognized to by municipal officials as much as by we observers. That situation began to change in 2003 when the Municipality and CAP Paraguay signed a Memorandum of Understanding on husbandry, organization and exhibit development. A series of disastrous events in the city, however, (Ycua Boleños fire and the death of a child caused by the elephant at the zoo) drew attention away from zoo matters and there was a major reduction in steps to improve the zoo.
In approximately 2006, the city and foundation approached the Fundación Ricardo Boettner and its President Marina Petrovic to assume oversight of zoo development and patron development. Ms. Petrovic was the first individual from Paraguay with whom I and the Zoo project members began working in 1992 and she remained continuously and strongly active and concerned about zoo development. Marina and her foundation took over in 2006 began developing patrons (exhibit sponsors). Ultimately in 2008, through an MOU with the Junta Municipal and the Mayor, the Foundation Ricardo Boettner assumed broad responsibility for oversight and development of the zoo. That fact, coupled with the appointment of a new, young Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Nelson Scappini. Immediately as the result of these events, there have been continuous, on-going interactions and consultation between us on major aspects of zoo matters. Zoo improvement literally shot forward. Dr Scappini was subsequently appointed Director of the Zoo and then Director of the Jardin Botánico y Zoológico of Asunción.
In the period since the Foundation Boettner assumed responsibilities, the zoo has undergone significant development. Cement sidewalks have been installed, many “cages” have been renovated into habitats (the standard exhibition mode for zoos), Amersfort Zoo in the Netherlands donated €10,000.00 (US$15,000.00) to develop an Educational/Volunteer program resulting in docent programs, zoo maps for distribution, improvements to the zoo entrance, and a small zoo gift shop. A “modern” office/working center has been installed, and management practices related to animal care and housing have been upgraded. Zoo “keepers” who previously just carried out assigned responsibilities are now making suggestions on how to improve the zoo. Proceeds from an admission fee (approximately 30¢) are now going to the Foundation rather than into city coffers. In other words, 13 years of disappointment and exasperation have finally paid off in a remarkable renaissance of zoo activity.
The Zoo director, Dr. Scappini has been invited by Sunset Zoo to visit Manhattan for conferences and visits to Kansas Zoos and I will be spending several weeks in Paraguay, in July (on request) to consult on further improvements and advances in zoo husbandry at the Zoo. Finally, Jim and Edie Jorns (Edie is a long time docent at Sunset Zoo) visited the zoo in July ’09 (see photos) while on a visit to Paraguay in association with a Church project. They were hosted by Ms. Petrovic and came back with very favorable comments regarding the zoo; Marina’s sole regret (and mine) was that they had not seen the zoo in its “original” state. Obviously the zoo is far from meeting the standards set by our accrediting agency but it is a far cry from its origins. I guess it just proves that if you wait long enough, collaborate long enough and find the right individual(s) in place, things can happen. I’ll report on the reality after my visit in July.
Bob Klemm, Chair, Natural Resources Committee