After an absence of several years, farm animals most likely will be back this summer at Lords Park Zoo in Elgin.
The Friends of Lords Park Zoo group wants to launch the pilot program starting with sheep, goats and pigs and possibly calves, organization spokesman Terry Gabel said.
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The zoo currently has bison, elk and deer. Farm animals were routinely featured in summertime at the zoo until about five years ago, when they were eliminated as a result of budget cuts during the recession, Gabel said.
"There are a lot of groups that expressed the desire to have (farm animals) come back," he said. "It's going to be a shot in the arm for the Elgin Public Museum. They've already begun thinking of programs that they can reinstate."
Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Learning Tree Child Care Center also are interested in incorporating the farm animals into their summer programming, he said.
Lords Park is owned by the city, and Elgin's public works staff operates and maintains the zoo. Over the years, the Friends of Lords Park Zoo have contributed thousands in donations, including for new animals.
According to initial estimates, the farm animals program will cost about $24,000, Gabel said. The group will contribute at least $8,400 in cash and in-kind donations, and it hopes the city will contribute $16,000, including three interns' salaries, he said.
"We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the city on this and other initiatives," Gabel said.
Elgin's 2014 budget includes $30,000 for sustainable community initiatives, including expansion of zoo operations, pending approval by the city council, Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said.
Mayor David Kaptain said he's long supported bringing back farm animals to the zoo.
"It's part of a quality of life thing for our city. It separates us from other communities," he said. "I remember going out there with my father 60 years ago. Those are memories that you can't put a price on for the kids."
The zoo got new tenants in December, when the current four elk arrived shortly after the last elk died, Gabel said.
Two elk were donated by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and two were bought from a private owner in downstate Champaign for about $4,000, Gabel said. Elgin Elks Lodge 737 donated more than $1,700.
"We're looking to add two more younger bison, hopefully this year," Gabel said. "That way you're not in critical mode. It gives us a buffer in future years, if one of the older ones dies."
The organization will begin contacting area farmers in January to see if they are willing to loan farm animals for the summer as they have in the past, Gabel said.
Also, the zoo will need volunteers to help maintain the farm animal area.
"Everybody wants to work directly with the animals, but the city might not allow that because of concerns about safety," he said. "But there's other opportunities for people."
Anyone interested in loaning animals can contact the group via Facebook at facebook.com/LordsParkZoo, by writing to Friends of Lords Park Zoo, P.O. Box 1187, Elgin, IL 60121 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.