Zoo moves forward without foundation

Even though the Toronto Zoo has dissolved its long-standing charitable organization they aren’t worried about finding new funds for their $250 million green initiative, officials say.

They’re actually excited about the future.

“I’m so happy we have ended this relationship [with the foundation],” says Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, of Ward 38. He has been on the Zoo Board of Management for five years.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker says at the pace the Zoo Foundation was raising funds for new initiatives, the polar bears would be all dead.“It was just a stalemate, they just weren’t doing anything . . . the people on the foundation were nice people, they just couldn’t do their job.”

Calvin White, CEO of the Toronto Zoo since 1986, says when the Zoological Society couldn’t handle its funding in the early days, the city took over. After some time, the zoo took more control over its functions and eventually, The Zoo Foundation was born.

But now, the board says it can take care of its funding needs without the help of foundation.

“I think it’s evolution, organizations change, there’s no fixed model. Some have foundations that work well together and others don’t,” White says.

While The Zoo Foundation was making $1- to $2-million per year, the zoo board provided an additional few million dollars, which came from group memberships that frequent zoo visitors bought.

“At the rate the foundation was going, it would take them 100 years to raise that money. We’d all be dead and so would the polar bears,” De Baeremaeker says.

He hopes the board will be able to raise $25 million per year.

De Baeremaeker pointed out that the board had organized a blueprint with the foundation and a fundraising firm. This blueprint involves contacting high-profile people who are interested in helping to raise money for the green initiative.

The board will work on this plan at the beginning of next year, and in spring 2009, they will put it into action.

The foundation, which consisted of 6 to 12 members, was only in charge of raising money for projects, including this month’s ZooRun.

Calvin White, CEO of the Toronto Zoo, says the dissolution of the Zoo Foundation will not negatively affect the future of Scarborough attraction.“The programs are actually run and operated by zoo staff and only the fundraising flowed through the foundation so the programs will be unaffected,” White said.

De Baeremaeker adds that discussions about in-house funding have been going on for at least half a decade.

“We should all be out there raising a huge volume of money to make the zoo a better place and to do some conservation advocacy work,” says De Baeremaeker. “But we haven’t done that for five years and neither has the foundation.”

The green initiative, which is supposed to take ten years, includes a $21.5 million environmental learning centre and $107.8 million dedicated to research and animal care projects as well as a collaborative breeding project with China for pandas.

“Initially, going green actually costs more,” White says, “but I think over time you’re going to find out that’s going to come down. It’s going to be the way to go and we certainly want to be right up there and lead organizations.”

Following the termination of the Zoo Foundation, Coun. Mike Del Grande stepped down as a board member.

“In any board where you have a number of people, things get discussed and you move ahead based on what the majority thinks,” says White.

White says by the end of this year, the council will have to decide which councillors should be on the zoo board. At this time, a new councillor will be appointed to fill Del Grande’s place.

Phone calls and emails to the former Zoo Foundation and Coun. Raymond Cho, the head of the Zoo Board, were not returned.