Talk Humboldt: Growing the Sequoia Park Zoo
Between rehabilitating California Condors and building the Redwood Skywalk, the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation stays busy. "We do a lot of fun stuff, dreaming big, creating new things, and maintaining those things," says Ashley Osia, who is the zoo's Director of Community Engagement.
While the City of Eureka owns the zoo and covers its daily operations, the foundation funds many of its improvement, conservation, and expansion efforts. Alegria Sita, the foundation's executive director, explains: "We are responsible for fielding the Master Plan of the zoo, and our efforts are going very much towards supporting conservation, not just here locally, but also around the world. It means that we are raising the standards of our habitats for our animal ambassadors that live here on zoo grounds. It means that we are creating educational opportunities and ways for the community to connect with wildlife in a variety of ways."
In this episode, Osia and Alegria Sita sit down to discuss how the Zoo finds ways to fund its dreams.
[Photo captions: Redwood Skywalk, L-R: Tom Jackson, Alegria Sita, Ashley Osia, Keith Flamer]
Tom Jackson: I'm Tom Jackson, president of Cal Poly Humboldt, here today with my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Keith Flamer, president of College of the Redwoods. Good to see you, Keith.
Keith Flamer: Pleasure seeing you, as always, Tom.
Tom Jackson: What's a three-letter word that describes where all the animals sleep and play? Keith Flamer: The zoo?
Tom Jackson: That's it.
Keith Flamer: And, like, sometimes with having young children at home, it's a zoo.
Tom Jackson: And you've brought your young children…
Keith Flamer: I have! And I was just showing the picture of them….
Tom Jackson: Yes. We're at Sequoia Park Zoo today with Alegria Sita, the executive director of Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation, and Ashley Osia, the director of Community Engagement. Thank you both for being here today.
Ashley Osia: We're honored. Thank you so much.
Tom Jackson: What's a normal day like at the zoo?
Alegria Sita: A day in the life sometimes involves meandering and strolling through zoo grounds, and here in our office with the foundation, it's a lot of meeting and greeting donors in our community, whose hearts are really here for a variety of reasons at the zoo.
Ashley Osia: We love to come to work every day. It's truly a wonderful, inspiring place to be.
Keith Flamer: I'm looking to my left and I see all these fake checks, one I see for $1.7 million. Which begs the question, how are you funded?
Alegria Sita: Every which way we can possibly bring dollars in. We do a lot of fundraising events. We solicit in-kind donations. We partner with local agencies and sponsors.
Ashley Osia: So we're constantly learning and creating connections to bring it all together and embrace this community treasure that it's truly become.
Tom Jackson: How might some of those gifts be used? Generally speaking.
Alegria Sita: It's vast. So we are responsible for fielding the master plan of the zoo, and our efforts are going very much towards supporting conservation, not just here locally, but also around the world. It means that we are raising the standards of our habitats for our animal ambassadors that live here on zoo grounds. It means that we are creating educational opportunities and ways for the community to connect with wildlife in a variety of ways.
Ashley Osia: All of those donations and the funding that we receive support a variety of different things that also went to funding the Redwood Skywalk. That is drawing visitors like we've never seen before.
Keith Flamer: What's the oversight of the zoo like? Is there some oversight body that says ‘you're doing really well here’ or ‘you need to do better here?’
Alegria Sita: We have an accrediting body, and we call them AZA, Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They want to see the quality of care our animals are receiving. They want to see that the habitats are the most natural environments that our animals can be living in. We're held to some pretty fierce standards and we're so proud of meeting and exceeding, in a lot of cases, those standards.
Keith Flamer: How connected are you either to the county or the city?
Alegria Sita: We are all in this together!
Keith Flamer: Help me understand that answer.
Alegria Sita: I'm glad you asked. So again, we are the philanthropic arm that supports the city's zoo. So the city owns the zoo.
Ashley Osia: The city does take care of operating expenses, feeding the animals, all of the animal care staff, all those things that go into daily operation. And then we do a lot of fun stuff, dreaming big, creating new things, and maintaining those things.
Keith Flamer: Are there some things that we don't often know as we drive by or we see the bears or the flamingos?
Ashley Osia: Every visit to Sequoia Park Zoo affects conservation. So $0.50 of every admission goes into our conservation fund. And with that, we have a Conservation Advisory Committee here between Sequoia Park Zoo and the Foundation, and they manage where those funds go. Sometimes they go locally and support things even like the California Condor restoration effort, and sometimes they go internationally and support spider monkeys in the wild.
Ashley Osia: So we like to support efforts of the species we have here at our zoo, but also out in the wild. We have a number of endangered species here at the zoo, and so you get an opportunity to visit endangered species, donate and effect projects with endangered species, and really help save animals from extinction with your actions. So, for instance, we have an ongoing Red Panda habitat update project to help that area of the zoo and the Chacoan Peccary Pavilion project.
Alegria Sita: This is exciting because we are building out additional event spaces on zoo grounds and the Peccary Pavilion will be one of those. So it will be a boardwalk that extends into the enclosure so that guests can be closer to our packages, but then also create space where we can actually host mixers and dinners and things of that nature here on zoo grounds.
Ashley Osia: Behind the scenes, we do have a California condor care center, and so by attending an event such as Zootini, people in the crowd fundraised for a specific cause and built a building. It is off site, but we are able to house a couple of California condors, and our animal care staff have been trained as experts to help in the effort for Northern California Condor Restoration Project. And so we are one key piece to help remove the lead from their system and get them to the next point in their journey to be released out into the wild. And you have to be very careful and keep them behind the scenes and not necessarily socialized with humans. So it's a very careful effort that goes on behind the scenes and at night that people don't even know about.
Tom Jackson: We have to talk about what happens here at night. And it brings me back to a place in Botswana where I was staying. And at night the nature reserve came alive. And I wonder, what is a night like here for the zoo?
Alegria Sita: A lot of our animals go to sleep at night. The animals will be in their sleeping quarters, so it's not quite as vocal as maybe the jungle or other places that you've been.
Ashley Osia: I will say that the zookeepers are on call 24-7. So a lot of times at night, even though everybody went to bed, they often have to come back because there's an animal in our animal care center, which is like an animal hospital. We have a zoo vet, so they often come here in the night and care for them. So there is around-the-clock care ongoing at Sequoia Park Zoo all the time.
Tom Jackson: We are here today with Alegria Sita and Ashley Osia, both from the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation. Thank you very much for your willingness to be with us today and to talk about, well, raising money and conservation and all those things that help bring people into the zoo.
Keith Flamer: Thank you, I learned so much today.
Ashley Osia: Thank you!