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It’s all happening at the zoo

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POSTED June 2, 2012 2:31 a.m.

MERCED — Merced resident Rachel Medefind, a mother of three, said the Applegate Park Zoo in Merced is a source of pride for her community.

“When Mercedians think of Turlock and Modesto we think of those cities as having all the stuff we don’t, but when it comes to the zoo, this is one thing we can say we have,” she said. “We are proud of this zoo.”

Now if you’re thinking to yourself, “I didn’t know Merced had a zoo,” then you’re not alone. But in fact, the Applegate Park Zoo is the only zoo on the map between Lodi and Fresno — and it’s larger than you might think.

The Applegate Zoo recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and it is home to more than 75 animals, nearly all of which are native to the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada.

The star of the zoo is a seven-year-old male mountain lion named Mac. If you’re lucky enough to visit the zoo when zookeeper Donna McDowell  is on duty you will be able to hear Mac meow like a small kitten — although it is wise not to pet him like one.

Mac isn’t the only draw within the small, friendly confines and cool shaded corridors of the zoo. Its central location, extremely low admission cost and proximity to a large playground in Applegate Park make it an ideal destination for families looking to fill an entire day during the summer months.

Some of the other animals to see at the zoo include Windfall and Missy, a pair of female black bears.

Merced Zoological Society Vice President John Carlos explained that Windfall was rescued from Oregon and her favorite edibles were pizza, Dr. Pepper and jelly donuts before she came to the zoo. Missy was an orphaned cub when the California Department of Fish and Game rescued her. She is now 190 pounds and is one-and-a-half years old.

“The zoo is fun and educational for children. When kids come here they are learning about animals that are in our backyard and when those kids become adults and make decisions about the environment they will think about how their decisions affect wildlife,” said McDowell.

Another popular animal at the zoo is Boomer the Bobcat, the University of California Merced official mascot. And no trip to the Applegate Park Zoo is complete without feeding the goats. For a mere 25 cents children of all ages can get a cup of goat food and hand-feed the zoo’s 10 goats, which will do just about anything to each other to get the food — and yes, they will eat the cup.

Keeping the zoo open

The zoo has been around for about 50 years, but since the recession many in the city of Merced have questioned the necessity of the zoo and some have called it a luxury the city can no longer afford.

According to McDowell and Carlos, paid staffing has been reduced by more than 50 percent and volunteers are hard to find. 

“A lot of our volunteers are senior citizens and they keep getting older and older. We need twice as many volunteers as we have now,” said Carlos.

Lack of volunteers to work the front gate at the zoo has led to a sort of “trust system” where zoo visitors are supposed to leave their admission money in a collection jar.

“Sometimes we get a $20 bill and sometimes we probably get nothing,” said Carlos.

McDowell explained that it takes about 36 man-hours a day to operate the park efficiently, and currently the zoo is staffed at about 16 hours.

“We are in danger of closing and some people are saying the zoo is a luxury we can’t afford but what people don’t realize is that we can’t just file these animals away and we can’t just place them in other zoos. These are all rescued animals and not all zoos will take them. Really it comes down to the citizens in Merced and in the region and if they want to support this zoo or not,” said McDowell.

To learn more about volunteering at the zoo, call 385-6851.

 

— JONATHAN MCCORKELL

209 Staff Reporter

 

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