Potter Park Zoo prepares for centennial in 2020

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Potter Park Zoo sign

Lea Mitchell

Potter Park Zoo gears up for its centennial in 2020.

True to its mission, people at the Potter Park Zoo are working on conservation plans leading up to its centennial in 2020.

The zoo’s mission is to educate people about conservation and encourage them to conserve animals and the world.

“There are many endangered species and one zoo cannot change it all. We need more organizations and people on board to continue spreading the world,” said Cynthia Wagner, director and former zookeeper at the Potter Park Zoo.

The zoo opened in 1920 and is preparing to celebrate its centennial. The Zoo staff and board met Mar. 13 to plan.

“It isn’t every day that you see a zoo about to celebrate being around for 100 years. This goes to show that the Potter Park Zoo is different,” said Wagner.

Many zoos are built to raise money for the county or to provide recreation for citizens, but the Potter Park Zoo aims to promote conservation and raise awareness. Most animals at the zoo are endangered or are used to educate.

There are over 8 million animal species in the world and 160 of those species are in the Potter Park Zoo.

“It wasn’t built to domesticate wild animals, but it was built to promote conservation and help endangered species. It is a great place for recreational purposes and a safe place for families to take their children,” Wagner said.

The zoo provides research, educational programs, breeding and release programs to inspire change.

Welcome center receptionist Dan Beachnau said, “Working at the zoo is serious business, but has a relaxed atmosphere all at once.”

Wagner and Beachnau said the biggest challenge is wanting to do everything at once and not being able to. They said they won’t stop raising awareness for conservation until every animal is stable and people are aware of their actions.

“Getting out why it is important to conserve animals and natural places is probably the hardest because many people don’t see the effects it is having on the environment right now, but we want our future generations to be able to see a black rhino,” said Wagner.

Wagner started working with the black rhinos in 2011 and said the rhinos are personable animals that like to interact with people. The rhinos are critically endangered and are in a breeding program. The zoo participates in world rhino day to raise awareness for rhino conservation and has rhino tours to raise donations.

Jacob Brodie, exhibit designer for the reptiles and amphibians, said he is re-designing the exhibits for the amphibians and fixing their water. The toads in the exhibit weren’t laying eggs and they couldn’t figure out why. Brodie went to the Detroit Zoo clinic where they found new information. The water in the tanks was too clean and they needed to add some bacteria to bring the nutrients toads need for reproduction.

“The clean water wasn’t harming the toads, but was making it difficult for the toads to become fertile. Now the toads are laying their eggs just in time for season,” Brodie said.

Wagner and Amy Morris-Hall, who is the executive director, said the zoo is developing a conservation plan. That will guide decisions about what animals come into the zoo. The two said they will try to get animals that need to be conserved to tell stories.

“An example would be river otters aren’t endangered, but we have them because they help tell the story to conserve rivers and the Great Lakes,” Wagner said.

The zoo is also adding a pollinator garden to teach people about planting native plants and why bees are important.

Wagner said interacting with the animals is fun, but knowing she is impacting their lives drives her to keep promoting the zoo’s values.

“When I see someone at the zoo who hasn’t closely interacted with animals before and they don’t understand why conservation is important, but seeing that change within the course of their visit is exciting,” Wagner said.

Cynthia Wagner who is wearing a blue sweater and tan pants smiles while standing in front of her wooden moose picture on the wall.

Lea Mitchell

Cynthia Wagner smiles in front of her moose picture in her office.

The Potter Park Zoo hopes to keep improving its educational programs, conservation methods and voice in Ingham County.

“Being able to see people come in and get excited to learn more about the animals and conservation is a step in the right direction,” Beachnau said.

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