West Jackson Rallying Zoo Support | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

West Jackson Rallying Zoo Support

Even if the Jackson Zoo retains its accreditation, questions remain about its long-term viability in its west Jackson neighborhood.

Even if the Jackson Zoo retains its accreditation, questions remain about its long-term viability in its west Jackson neighborhood. Photo by Trip Burns

Everyone in town seems to have an opinion on which course of action the Jackson Zoo's leadership, faced with financial obstacles, should take to ensure the longevity of what former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. called "one of Jackson's jewels." While most of the "facts" making the rounds are speculative, what's certain is that the zoo needs to adapt to survive at its current location or move.

The surrounding communities formed the Zoo Area Progressive Partnership in the mid-1990s for the purpose of getting the Jackson Zoo involved to improve the west Jackson neighborhoods around it. A representative from ZAPP joined Zoo Director Beth Poff in leading a group that met Sept. 25 at Jackson Restaurant Supply to discuss problems the zoo faces and ways the community can get involved.

Jackson Zoo Director Beth Poff opened the meeting by describing the appeal process the zoo's leadership is undergoing in order to remain Mississippi's only accredited zoo.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums denied the zoo's request for re-accreditation in early September, Poff says, on the grounds that the zoo was not financially stable. Since then, Jackson leadership has pledged to help fund the zoo's budget (which was $1.4 million in 2012), with the city picking up the overwhelming bulk. Now, Poff believes the appeal process will go smoothly.

"We have a nice letter from (Mayor Chokwe Lumumba) pledging his support, and I'm confident that we'll win our appeal because the only problem they listed on our review was an uncertainty around our funding," Poff said. "In the meantime, we remain an AZA-accredited zoo."

That confidence might have been dealt a blow at Monday's special meeting of the city council, where an emergency measure to provide the zoo funding was shot down with a 2-2 vote.

The emergency item called for the city to immediately disburse $418,472 to the zoo, as the mayor explained, so they would have cash-on-hand when it turned in its appeal proposal. Quentin Whitwell, Ward 1, and De'Keither Stamps, Ward 4, voted against it, even after City Council President Charles Tillman urged his council colleagues to support the measure. After speaking privately with Tillman, Stamps called for a motion to reconsider the item, but that call, which required unanimous consent, failed when Whitwell maintained his position.

AZA-accredited zoos have exchange programs for animals, for breeding or health-care-related reasons, where zoos trade animals for specified periods of time. Poff said a number of the zoo's 750-plus animals are on loan from other zoos or are "visiting" for mating purposes. If the zoo lost its accreditation, it would have to let all of its affiliated partners know, which Poff said could lead to those institutions pulling their animals out of Jackson or opting to send inspectors to monitor the quality of care the Jackson Zoo provides to the animals.

The bigger problem may be dwindling attendance numbers that do not support spending on exhibits and staff. Poff said that zoo spent millions on its exhibits in the past decade, yet it has experienced stagnant visitor numbers.

Something has to give, she said, because the zoo's attendance isn't half of what it should be for a region the size of the greater Jackson metro area.

"We're going through a situation now where we are having to shrink the size of our staff," Poff said. "We have to have a staff to match our attendance, and if our attendance is only going to be 100,000 visitors a year, we've got to find a way to pay (payroll and expenses). With our metro area, we should be (hosting) 230,000 visitors a year, so what's wrong? We've had $12 million in new exhibits in the past 10 years, so what's wrong? ... That's what the board has to wrestle with. We have to have a hard direction—it's either fix where we are, get the help of (the area) around us to come up to a certain level, or maybe the zoo is in the wrong spot."

ZAPP is one organization trying to keep the zoo in west Jackson, but others are trying to help solve the zoo's problems as well. Under the leadership of Phil Reed, the non-profit Voice of Calvary Ministries has renovated and rented dozens of houses in west and south Jackson. Reed lives within walking distance of the zoo, and has spoken to the Jackson City Council and the zoo's leadership on behalf of the community.

"I'm hopeful that the zoo is going to regain its status in terms of accreditation," Reed said. "I understand it's rare for (the AZA) to overturn a ruling on an appeal, but I think we've got a solid case, and we ought to get it."

Reed says he got involved with zoo issues when he realized the community around the zoo in west Jackson did not have sufficient representation in the conversation that seemed to be playing out in the newspapers.

"All of us in the community realize that we needed to embrace the zoo and help improve the area," Reed said. "Getting the accreditation is a first big step, and I think they will have a good case (due to) community support as well as financial support.

"We may eventually get to the point where it would make sense for the zoo to move," Reed said. "I don't see it like that right now, but maybe it's in the zoo's best interest. And maybe there's something more profitable for our community that (it) could use the land for—it is right on the medical corridor. I just think the community needs to be involved. It's got to be an inclusive process."

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bthennington1 8 years ago

If the zoo wants to survive it needs to move. Period.


maliikomari 8 years ago

The Jackson Zoo has plenty of extra undeveloped land. Why cant we untilize developers input to consider the Zoo's future. People like theme parks. Prehaps with the extra land we could consider attaching a water park or Mississippi Aqurium. The Zoo opened in 1916 and since that time very litte about the zoo has changed. It' s still just a zoo! We should consider wheather or not our antiquated modle has continued to surive and thrive in other regions. As a city we should be mindful to think proactive and not reactive. Zoo officials should be charged with developing a master development plan in respect to the zoo progression. No balming anyone, but before just handing the city's moey out , a mater development plan should have investigated and mandated! We can move foward but we must be foward thinking oriented individals!


speedyrev 8 years ago

I've said it before, I'm not giving any tourist directions to the Zoo. I will not send people into that part of town who don't know their surroundings. And do we really want people from out of town to drive there and think that part of Jackson is representative of Mississippi?


donnaladd 8 years ago

Right. It's supposed to chase suburbanites like malls have done, leaving shells of zoos behind it.

No, there is a better way. It's time to tend the white-flight mentality (even with non-whites who have adopted it). Just say no.

I drive around the entire city constantly. I've been on two or three streets that scared me because they were so closed in. You don't drive in any area like that to get to the zoo.


Scott1962 8 years ago

Yes that's a good idea. Just leave it in that depressed looking war zone that was once a thriving area and let it die a quick... but proud death. I'm sure you're right on this one Donna. The amount of money it would attract were it out on Lakeland Drive, the profit for the city, should both take a back seat to "showing" those dead white men from the past.


donnaladd 8 years ago

I've also heard people say the same thing, speedydude, about Belhaven and Fondren. It's bullshit perceptions that are self-exacerbating.


donnaladd 8 years ago

And, for the record, I fear for my life far more in any suburban strip-shopping area where people barrel toward me in huge SUVS while talking on cell phones or texting. And, in fact, driving-associated dangers are greater.


speedyrev 8 years ago

I said nothing about white flight, or race for that matter. White flight may have caused the problem, but the shell already exist and crime has filled it. Had a good friend robbed in Belhaven this week.

Perception is reality when it comes to marketing. The Zoo will not do better until an attractive corridor and safe surroundings are presented by the city.



Zoo_Advocate 8 years ago

As of the 2010 census, the Jackson metropolitan statistical area had a population of 539,057. In truth, most AZA-accreditted zoos have an annual attendance nearly equal (often greater, but rarely less) to their metro area population. The current Exec Director would love to have people believe that an annual attendance of 100,000 is about half what it should be, but in truth it is about one fifth what it should be. The people who know nothing about zoos will continue to say "move it to Madison" or "move it near the Children's Museum"... but they have no idea how much this would cost. It just ain't gonna happen. The zoo may be in a bad part of town, but so are many, many other metro zoos that are more than fifty years old. The zoo should be an island oasis no matter what part of town it is in... and in truth Jackson Zoo is an island oasis. There is virtually zero crime or danger once you get yourself safely inside the zoo gates. The biggest problem the zoo has is public perception. It is the usual reference point on any map shown by the local TV news for any crime going down in west Jackson. Has anyone involved in zoo leadership tried to put an end to this? Has anyone explained to the local new media that the nightly smear campaign for the neighborhood the zoo finds itself in is not benefiting the city of Jackson. You don't have to look far to see what great zoos can be in major cities nearest to Jackson- Memphis, New Orleans, and Birmingham. all three of those cities are proud of their zoos and tout them as serious tourist attractions. Jackson (and the state of MS) can't seem to even put up sufficient road signs to lead visitors to the zoo. Maybe if you out up just two signs on I-55 and 1-20 before the I-220 exit to let passing tourists know, "hey we've got a pretty good zoo here" that might double the attendance right there. Of course the zoo could help their won cause by putting up billboards too. Memphis Zoo is one of the finest zoos in the country and they still put up billboards on the major interstates leading into town- far away from the zoo itself. It's sad to know that the local Bass Pro Shop is now the state's #1 tourist attraction... the zoo can't even compete with one big tank of game fish and outdoor gear for sale. Ultimately, the responsibility for the zoo is the community supporting it. People in Jackson don't seem to realize or care that great cities boast great zoos among their many cultural attractions.


Knowledge06 8 years ago

Here's a novel idea for the Zoo Board and Administration. Stop wasting your funds marketing to the white people in the suburbs of Jackson who don't want to come to the zoo. Use those funds to actually market to the people who actually live in the City and not just North, Northeast, Fondren and Belhaven (no offense people). The South Jackson, Byram and Terry Areas are markets that are under marketed. I know because I live in that area. Further, expand your reach to the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere in Mississippi where a trip to the Zoo for families would be far more appreciated than the malcontents you waste your time wooing now. Additionally, evaluate your board makeup and ensure that you have the right people helping you to elevate the Zoo and not just people who need a resume filler. Just saying....


SpaceMountain80 8 years ago

I have lived in the metro area (in the suburbs for most of that time) for a little over 7 years now. I will confess that I have never visited the zoo in Jackson, though I have been curious. I hear wonderful things about the zoo in Memphis and it tends to be rated in the top 10 zoos in the U.S., whenever I see a list. I haven't been to visit it either, though. The Jackson zoo appears to have no real reputation regionally, much less nationally. I've never seen it ranked in any list to know how it even stacks up or what it has to offer a visitor. So, there probably is a marketing issue there. As the article makes clear, it definitely seems like there is a funding issue as well. I don't know how you solve the funding issue or where (besides admission fees) the funding for a city zoo even typically comes from but I would guess that they need to do a study of other successful zoos in similarly-sized cities to see what the other cities are doing so well and what Jackson is doing so poorly.

As for the location of the zoo, it is true that the area around West Capitol is one of the lesser areas of Jackson. It is a depressed area that seems to have been in decline for quite some time. There is some crime there and some drug activity there and quite a few homes in the area are vacant and falling apart. You will also see some prostitution on West Capitol from time to time, which doesn't help the area's reputation. So, the reputation of the area probably is hurting the zoo's reputation and the attendance figures. It would help if there was an effort to clean up West Capitol from Gallatin to the zoo but that isn't likely because the city simply doesn't have the funds to do it. The truth is that Jackon is a cash-poor city and has many more needs than it has available money. Finding the money to overhaul an area of the city will take outside sources of funding and/or private investors.


tstauffer 8 years ago

I think Disneyland in Anaheim has proven that your neighborhood doesn't have to be perfect for an attraction to attract folks. I'm sure it'd be nice if the Zoo was up on a shining hill next to a Starbucks and a Super Walmart, but I bet you that wouldn't actually help as much as you think -- because a Zoo needs land, and it needs it to be cheap, and it needs to to be accessible to folks. (If the proposal was to move it to Metrocenter I might be more interested. :)

As to getting to the Zoo, those of your who are afraid to tell people to take 220 to Capitl and then it's two blocks in, you could send people on Woodrow Wilson to Parkside to Capitol or Fortification to Woodrow Wilson to Parkside to Capitol. Not only is that route almost 100% non-threatening to Tahoes, even with Rankin plates, it's actually got nice blacktop roads and it's pretty quick.

And the Zoo is pretty nice. They've got animals and everything. I say go ahead and check it out, particularly if you've got kids. Make the trip and THEN come back and report to us what you think should be done next.


justjess 8 years ago

....and Jackson State University is only a hop-skip and a jump from the Zoo. Please, stop making excuses for the location of the zoo. The only problem that is not being voiced is that the zoo is located in Jackson, MS and with a ratio of 80% black and 20% white and other.

This was the reason for White flight in the 70s: (The BRITISH - I mean, the BLACKS ARE COMING). Until we deal honestly and openly with the race problem here, the excuses will continue and zoo doo will clog the minds of people who should know better.


js1976 8 years ago

"I think Disneyland in Anaheim has proven that your neighborhood doesn't have to be perfect for an attraction to attract folks."

Todd, Disneyland and the Jackson Zoo shouldn't even be in the same sentence.


js1976 8 years ago

"And, for the record, I fear for my life far more in any suburban strip-shopping area where people barrel toward me in huge SUVS while talking on cell phones or texting. And, in fact, driving-associated dangers are greater."

Donna, you finally display some humor!


donnaladd 8 years ago

I'm not trying to be funny, js. Everything I said is true.


edinman 8 years ago

I think the city seriously needs to look at improving the entire stretch of Capitol Street from downtown to I-220. A boulevard style parkway similar to what was done in the JSU area would be nice (though I really don't care for all the roundabouts). More importantly, there needs to be far more aggressive code enforcement including rapid removal of abandoned and condemned structures and fines levied against owners of distressed and poorly maintained properties. This is something that Jackson has never been very good at and it is politically unpopular in poor neighborhoods. Often, absentee landlords don't want to fix anything and their desperately poor tenants fear rent increases and eviction. I know there was a lot of opposition to the urban renewal efforts related to the JSU parkway, but you have to admit that whole area looks a lot nicer now. Much the same can occur along Capitol Street if there is a political will for it and the money can be found. This would do a lot to increase traffic to the zoo.

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