Next arrival at Cougar Mountain Zoo could be cheetah
June 9, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
A cheetah could be the next addition to Cougar Mountain Zoo’s big cat collection, a zoo administrator said last week.
General Curator Robyn Barfoot said she hopes to open a cheetah exhibit with a single animal within a year. If Barfoot and her team were successful, Cougar Mountain Zoo would be the only facility in the state to exhibit the world’s fastest land animal.
First, zoo administrators must raise nearly $2 million to ready the exhibit and obtain the cheetah or cheetahs from a breeding facility in South Africa. Cheetahs have long been part of the zoo’s collection plan, Barfoot said. Plans call for the cheetah habitat to eventually house two or three male animals. A zoo map near the main entrance shows the location of planned exhibits — including a cheetah habitat in the southeastern corner of the zoo.
Barfoot said the cheetah would be a captive-born animal. She plans to travel to South Africa to pick up the cheetah and help transport the animal to the zoo.
“Send me now,” she said. “I want to bring them to the zoo.”
A collection plan outlines the animals the zoo would like to acquire based on the conservation value and appeal to visitors. The existing collection encompasses 28 species and includes a cougar and a pair of Bengal tigers. More than 50 percent of the species represented at the zoo are endangered.
“A lot of research goes into every animal acquisition,” Barfoot said.
Zoo administrators plan to embark on a fundraising effort in order to build the habitat and acquire a cheetah. Barfoot said she and her team were planning several activities to garner donations for the project.
“People hear $2 million and it scares them, but even if they donate $1, that’s $1 less that we need to raise,” she said.
Administrators are also planning a fundraiser for late summer in order to raise money for a larger habitat for Taj and Almos, 2-year-old Bengal tiger cubs and a main attraction at the zoo.
A cheetah exhibit would set Cougar Mountain Zoo apart from other, larger zoos in Washington. The facility would become the only wildlife park in Washington to exhibit the graceful animals known for their spotted coats and running speeds faster than 60 mph.
The closest facility with a cheetah exhibit is in Winston, Ore. Wildlife Safari, a drive-through preserve about 90 minutes south of Eugene, has operated a cheetah-breeding program since 1973. Barfoot said there are no plans to establish a similar program at Cougar Mountain Zoo.
Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Bott praised the zoo for adding to its roster of family-friendly attractions. Bott and other business leaders launched a tourism push to draw Seattle visitors to the Eastside.
“Anything that the members of our community can do to distinguish our community as a great place to spend a weekend or an afternoon is a good thing,” he said.
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or email@example.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.