A Hippo - one of the many animals at the Toronto Zoo located in Scarborough

Toronto Zoo – off the market

Anyone hoping to purchase or lease the Toronto Zoo, is out of luck. After a city councillors’ debate on Oct. 2, there has been a halt in the sale or lease of the zoo.

Last week, days after putting the zoo on the market, city councillors discussed the jeopardy that selling the zoo to a private owner could present.

According to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, if the zoo is controlled by the private sector, it could compromise the arrival of the giant pandas that are meant to arrive from China next year.

Although Mayor Rob Ford and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday were in support of the sale, hoping that it would save the city money, councillors Paul Ainslie and Mammoliti motioned to stop the operation and were supported by a vote of 30-2. Ainslie is also the vice chairman of the zoo board.

Ainslie said he wants city councillors to consider the zoo board’s creation of a new non-profit plan that will make the zoo less reliant on city funding. This plan involves turning the zoo into a zoological society: a board made up of 24 members that will handle the functions of the zoo.

Originally, selling the zoo was a plan introduced by accounting firm KPMG last year as a means of saving the city money, but the sale has since been complicated. A huge portion of the 300-hectare land is owned by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority while the city maintains ownership of the zoo buildings. Another complication to the sale is that most of the animals are loans from other facilities and do not actually belong to the zoo.

According to the Toronto Zoo Board, the zoo receives $11.1 million from taxpayers a year. The zoo’s dependency has reduced substantially from 53 per cent in 1990 to 24 per cent now. According to Ainslie, the zoo’s ultimate goal is to depart from the assistance of city politicians and encourage private funds. Recently, FedEx made a $3.7 million donation to support the arrival and the maintenance of pandas that are coming to the Scarborough site in 2013.

Victor Imade, a resident of Scarborough and a frequent visitor of the zoo, said he believes the idea of private funds is a great idea.

“I love the zoo and I have come here for years with my family, but I don’t think that the city should be spending millions on operating an entertainment facility,” Imade said. “There’s so much more that can be done with our tax money – there is so much that needs to be done. If the zoo wants to run, it should depend on donations from people who are willing to give, not tax money from people who are only obligated to give.”

Ainslie believes that without the involvement of politicians and with the new financial self-sustaining plan, the zoo could be financially independent within 10 years.