No sting for taxpayers

The city’s plan to install a stingray touch tank exhibit at the Toronto Zoo will not cost taxpayers any money, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker of Ward 38 says.

But that’s only if the expected crowds come to experience the new exhibit.

In the 2008 operating budget, announced on Jan. 28, it was revealed the city has allotted $932,000 for a stingray exhibit, slated to open on May 16 and run until October of this year.

In a Jan. 31 Toronto Sun article, Councillor Rob Ford said the stingray exhibit is a waste of the city’s money. However, De Baeremaeker, a member of the Toronto Zoo Board of Management, says Ford has his facts wrong.

“We’re not spending a million dollars on stingrays,” he says. “We’ll spend it to get them here, but the revenue will cover the cost. We are expecting at least a million in revenue.

“It will pay for itself.”

That stingray tank, suggested by zoo staff and approved by the board, will be a special summer exhibit at the zoo, much like last year’s Dinosaurs Alive.

“The zoo’s always trying to find unique ways to enhance the experience at the zoo,” says Cynthia Shipley, marketing manager at the Toronto Zoo. “We want fun exhibits that offer interaction for visitors, and this is a chance for them to actually touch the stingrays.”

Dinosaurs Alive saw 600,000 visitors last summer, and De Baeremaeker says he is expecting to see similar numbers with the stingrays.

One example of how popular the exhibit could be is the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago. It had a similar stingray exhibit last summer, and Shipley says it was very successful.

She also says the zoo consulted with the Brookfield Zoo before making the decision to bring it here.

According to De Baeremaeker, work has already begun on readying the site. The stingray tank, to be located in the group events tent, will look like “a humongous swimming pool, a couple feet high like a kid’s pool.”

Though the pool is large enough so the stingrays aren’t forced to interact with visitors, De Baeremaeker says they are very sociable animals.

While the dangers of stingrays are well-known because of crocodile hunter Steve Irwin’s death from a barb to the chest, Shipley says that was an extreme case and the exhibit will not be dangerous at all.

“Their barbs will be cut so it will be totally safe,” she says. “Their barbs are like our fingernails, so it doesn’

t hurt them at all, and they will grow back.”

Those wishing to visit the stingray tank will have to pay an extra $3. People who only want to see all the regular zoo exhibits will just be charged the regular admission fee.

Shipley says she can’
t wait for the exhibit to open, and is confident it will be a resounding success.

“They’re a great addition to our line-up. They’
re gorgeous, graceful animals and people are going to love it,” she says.

De Baeremaeker seems just as excited.

“I think it will be one of the best exhibits we’ve ever had.”