New fence at Elgin zoo will protect animals from disease, junk food
A new double fence at Lords Park Zoo in Elgin will protect the deer and elk from outside animals that can carry disease, such as bucks jumping in during mating season, as well as from people who feed them harmful food.
Installing an 8-foot double fence, with 8 to 10 feet between each fence, has been a recommendation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public Works Superintendent Greg Hulke said. The city council approved the $121,000 expense Wednesday.
The current single fence was installed in the 1970s. Even though it is 6 feet with barbed wire on top, it hasn't stopped other animals, including predators, from occasionally gaining access, Hulke said. The single fence also allows contact with animals outside the enclosure, which is how chronic wasting disease can be spread, he said. That's a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose.
People, however well-intentioned, also can harm the animals, said Terry Gabel, president of the Friends of Lords Park Zoo nonprofit organization that raises funds for the zoo. "They feed them Cheetos and junk food, but animals require a specific diet," he said.
The Elgin zoo is open 365 days a year. People can visit deer -- currently three, soon six -- six elk and three bison year-round, and during the summer there are farm animals such as sheep, miniature ponies, pigs, cattle, chickens and turkeys on loan from local farmers. The summer season ended Aug. 8 and attracted about 11,000 visitors, about the same as last year, Gabel said.
"It was very successful," he said.
Nearly 40 programs, all free to the public, took place this season including, for the first time, live music with three concerts from Chamber Music on the Fox made possible by a grant from Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Elgin, he said. The nonprofit raises up to $7,000 a year for programming from individual and community contributions.
Once the new fence is installed, likely by the end of September, three more deer will be brought in at a price tag of nearly $6,000, he said. One deer was killed last year by a coyote that apparently got under a fence, and others died of natural causes, Gabel said.
"A lot of people think deer are cheap and plentiful," he said. "You see deer along the road, but you can't get those because they are not disease-free. You have to buy them from a certified herd."
The zoo was closed for five years due to budget constraints and reopened in 2014 thanks to the Friends of Lords Park Zoo. "Kudos to the staff and volunteers who have really maintained Lords Park Zoo and brought it back and really poured a whole lot of heart and soul into it to make sure it remains functional and it remains a source of pride for our community," Councilwoman Tish Powell said.
"The city of Elgin has been a great partner," Gabel said.
Friends of Lords Park Zoo will hold a fundraiser from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at Elgin Artspace Lofts in downtown Elgin. Tickets are $35 and include wine, beer and food catered by Cafe Roma in Elgin. There will be a silent auction.
The museum holds bison feedings the last Saturday of the month. Reservations are required by calling Elgin Public Museum at (847) 741-6655.
The organization has a 10-member board and about 30 volunteers, and is always looking for more volunteers, Gabel said. For more information visit facebook.com/LordsParkZoo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (847) 888-2348.