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LET'S SORT THROUGH THE MYTHS AND FACTS SURROUNDING THE RELOCATION OF THE BUFFALO ZOO

With controversy swirling around the Buffalo Zoo's decision to relocate, I'd like to point out a few of the myths that seem to be emerging.

Myth #1: If we don't spend $160 million to relocate the zoo, it will lose accreditation, and Buffalo will no longer have a zoo.

Fact: Accreditation can be maintained at the current site for only $25 million. For $50 million, substantial improvements can be made over and above the minimum requirement, without relocating.

If a big blowout of $160 million were really required for accreditation, we would have to question the fiscal sense of those doing the accreditation. There are a lot of good, accredited zoos around the world that are smaller than Buffalo's. They flourish by emphasizing quality over size.

Myth #2: People who want to keep the current zoo are selfish, small-minded people who don't care about the animals.

Fact: If the animals in the current zoo are in serious jeopardy and misery from cramped cages, then they should be removed immediately to animal sanctuaries, rather than kept in their cramped lodgings for another four-plus years while "caring" people build their new quarters. Four years is a long time in an animal's life.

In truth, zoos are not the hallmarks of animal preservation because their top priority is exhibition of animals for entertainment purposes.

I care a lot about wildlife. I see many places where money could be well-spent in reclaiming the area's natural environment. Relocating the zoo will be a huge resource-intensive installation to create an artificial environment for animals that don't belong here.

People truly concerned about animal welfare should support non-profit sanctuaries, wildlife refuges and societies that try to protect natural environments.

In London, the Wordlife Center has come up with an interesting solution to this problem. Instead of holding animals hostage, they have decided to create a virtual zoo with no animals. Through high-tech satellite links, visitors will be able to observe animals in nature, as far away as the Amazon rain forest, the Great Barrier Reef and Africa.

Myth #3: The Meadow in Delaware Park is sacred land from the War of 1812, and looks much like it did to the American Indians before the Europeans arrived. It must not be disturbed.

Fact: I'm not really sure what the War of 1812 was about. But I do know that it didn't stop anyone from building a golf course on that site. And I don't think American Indians played golf in earlier times.

To the modern visitor, the historic zoo buildings form a charming enhancement to the park experience. What will become of them? Will we turn them into drugstores?

Myth #4: Think big! Strike while the iron is hot!

Fact: These slogans create the impression that relocating the zoo is a tremendous opportunity that we can't afford to miss.

An economic opportunity? Considering the initial outlay, plus enormous maintenance costs, it's very unlikely that the zoo would ever pay for itself, let alone generate profit. Zoos generally require major subsidies to meet their operating expenses.

As an economic catalyst, it is just as unlikely. Few people would come from out-of-town to see the zoo. That is just pure fantasy. But you might get some new people interested in moving to Buffalo if they knew we had a good school system. Which brings us to the next myth.

Myth #5: A giant new zoo is indispensable for our children's education.

Fact: The same claim is made for many items in a toy store: Fun! Educational! I think a distinction has to be made here between entertainment and education. There are institutions designed for education -- they are called schools. If the goal is education, putting more money into deteriorating city schools would be more cost-effective. Unless we want to raise a nation of zookeepers.

It's my understanding that there's only so much public money available. So if you spend it in one area, it may be lacking in another. Therefore, it's a good idea to use the money where it's needed most. Better options exist, such as maintaining the schools, housing stock, parks and environmental quality of a community.

In the chorus of propaganda, it's hard to know the real motivation for the relocation. Is it so that the rich can get richer? We've seen some big advertisements in The News lately, sponsored by "one of your neighbors, who is concerned about the future of the zoo." Who is this masked man?

I think it's time to ask some legitimate questions: Just who will benefit from a relocated zoo? The animals? The children? The community at large? Or just a few highly connected speculators?

In short, there are plenty of bad reasons to relocate the zoo. And there are plenty of good reasons not to.

JOHN M. BARTLEY lives in Buffalo.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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