If Donna Fernandes knows anything, it’s how to adjust, and unfortunately, that is what she is having to do as the Buffalo Zoo confronts a $2 million shortfall in fund-raising for a new home for Luna and Kali, the two most famous polar bear cubs in Buffalo history.
The zoo needed $14 million to build the planned Arctic Edge exhibit and create a new home for its polar bear cubs. It got $12 million – no small feat – but it is nonetheless disappointing that it couldn’t raise the full amount, especially given the community’s overwhelming affection for the two cubs.
Luna was born at the Buffalo Zoo and quickly acclimated to her fame. She was born ready for her close-up. Her new friend, Kali, came to Buffalo from Alaska, where a hunter rescued him after killing his mother, not knowing she had recently given birth. Kali was nervous at first, but being smarter than the average bear, quickly adapted.
The bears’ habitat needs to meet standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That is urgent in any case, but especially so if the community hopes to keep Luna and Kali. As matters stand, the St. Louis Zoo, which is further ahead in building its new polar bear exhibit, is believed to have the inside track on claiming Kali. The U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service will make that decision.
To account for the shortfall in funding, Fernandes, the Buffalo Zoo’s president, and her team have revised plans for the new habitat, dropping, at least for now, a planned lynx exhibit. It could be restored in the future. The plans still call for wolf and bald eagle exhibits, but eliminate a waterfowl attraction that would have required expensive fencing along with a pool and water filtration system.
In addition, the revised design cuts back on use of synthetic rock, which is expensive. It was to be used for walls, bluffs and at grade level. Instead – and this isn’t such a bad thing – the new exhibit will recycle stone from the former bear exhibits and add a woodlike material.
“The existing bear pit had a lot of public sentiment, and reusing that material is also a way to pay homage to the history of the zoo,” said Gwen Howard, senior project manager for Foit-Albert Associates.
Fernandes responded quickly and appropriately to the funding shortfall, but it’s a shame it had to happen. The Buffalo Zoo is one of Western New York’s premiere attractions – and one that is continually improving under Fernandes’ leadership.
But there appears to be no choice now but to cut back on the plans – and hope that when bids come in, there is enough money to cover the cost. The alternative is not a happy one for Buffalo.