The fate of the 120-year-old zoo remains uncertain.
There have been animals at High Park since 1893, when a group of deer was invited to take up residence there. Those deer set a trend, because the High Park Zoo now features a whole lot of creatures—including bison, llamas, wallabies, and capybaras (the noble giant guinea pigs of the animal kingdom)—who are visited by an estimated 500,000 people each year. In 2012, though, the future of the zoo and its many inhabitants was thrown into doubt when the City, looking to reduce its bottom line, cut funding for the attraction.
The zoo was able to remain open because the non-profit group Friends of High Park Zoo dedicated itself to raising the nearly $230,000 needed to keep it up and running. The Friends have received financial support from big-name donors (like the Honey Family Foundation and Moses Znaimer) and from generous zoo-lovers who donate through Friends of High Park Zoo, the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, and automated donation stations set up in the park itself.
But Friends board member and city councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale–High Park) was hoping the group wouldn’t be forced to fund the park again this year. “Volunteers have worked so hard, and they’ve done a brilliant job,” she says. “Can you really ask them to do it indefinitely?”
It seems the City intends to do just that: the $228,000 needed to cover the annual cost of three full-time animal attendants, maintenance, and animal upkeep doesn’t appear in next year’s draft budget.
Doucette isn’t ready to give up on getting the zoo written into the 2014 budget quite yet. She and Friends of High Park Zoo are inviting zoo-lovers to show up at budget committee meetings on December 2 and 3 to voice their support and help advocate on behalf of a new plan, which would see the City once again take on the zoo’s operating costs while the Friends concentrate on rounding up funds for capital projects. (The llamas would benefit from a larger area, for example. It seems female llamas don’t always wish to keep company with male llamas.)
If the zoo can make its case between now and January’s city council budget meeting, Doucette’s aim is to have its 2014 funding restored and made retroactive to January 1.
Doucette stresses that it’s in the interests of all Torontonians to secure the future of High Park Zoo. “High Park is a destination park,” she says. “And the zoo is part of that destination park. It’s not a ward zoo; it’s a city zoo.”