Aging Children's Zoo Gives Way to Southwest Display for All Ages

Times Staff Writer

The sign was quietly posted Monday in the admission booth at the Los Angeles Zoo.

"Children's Zoo Closed," it read.

What the notice did not reveal was that the popular section of the zoo, which consists of a nursery and petting zoo, has been closed permanently.

During the next month, workers will clear the 2.5-acre area for construction of Adventure Island, a $7-million section that will display animals of California and the Southwest in facsimiles of their natural habitats.

The project will be the largest in the zoo's history and should be completed by December, 1988, said Lora LaMarca, curator for education and information at the zoo.

"This one will be . . . for children of all ages," she said.

Several reasons led zoo officials to close the section, which opened in 1965 as the first phase of the present Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park, LaMarca said. Cages, pens and buildings were severely deteriorated, she said, and the Children's Zoo had long lost its identity as a collection of domesticated animals suited for children.

"The area essentially became just a holding facility for animals we didn't have room for anywhere else," LaMarca said.

Officials decided that creating a section for Southwestern animals would be better use of the limited available land at the 79.5-acre zoo, the curator said.

Few visitors have complained about the closing of the Children's Zoo, workers said.

"Nobody has really said much, although we don't get as many visitors during the week," box office attendant Patrick Alonso said. "More people probably will notice on the weekend, when we're busier."

During the next three weeks, workers will move about 100 animals, either permanently to other zoos around the country or temporarily to other sites at the Los Angeles Zoo, LaMarca said. Most of the animals will be from the nursery, a major attraction at the Children's Zoo, she said.

Pumpkin, a 21-month-old orangutan, will be sent to the San Diego Zoo, and a 10-month-old gorilla named Kid Kong will move to a zoo in Brownsville, Tex.

Other nursery dwellers, including a recently born chimpanzee, a siamang monkey and several baby wart hogs will be moved to a temporary nursery closed to public viewing.

Six pygmy goats from the popular barnyard petting attraction will earn their keep by eating tall grass at a temporary hillside location out of public view to help prevent brush fires, LaMarca said.

The goats eventually will be joined by a pony, chickens, geese and other domestic barnyard animals in Adventure Island, but none will be available for petting.

"We get over a million people through here every year, and even a goat can take only so much handling," LaMarca said.

Adventure Island will re-create the diverse environments of the Southwestern United States, including the mountains, desert, ocean and cave areas. Among its animals will be California sea lions, mountain lions, tarantulas, snakes and road runners.

The project departs from the traditional notion of zoos as exhibits for lions, elephants, camels and other animals native to foreign lands, La Marca said. Adventure Island is intended to educate the 1.5-million annual visitors to the zoo--mostly from California and the Southwest--about the animals in their own backyard.

"With the projections of more people moving to and visiting this part of the country, we felt it was important to concentrate on wildlife in the Southwest United States to educate them about the animals and endangered species here," LaMarca said.

The section also will use special effects, such as holograms, projected images and sound recordings of animals, to educate visitors, the curator said. A nursery will be open to public view.

In July, workers will clear most of the land for construction, LaMarca said. A ground-breaking ceremony for Adventure Island set July 29 will feature an elephant pulling down the remnant of the Children's Zoo, she said.

The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., a nonprofit organization, has raised about half the cost of Adventure Island, assisted by a $3-million grant from the Weingart Foundation. The rest will come from corporate sponsors and donations from individuals, LaMarca said.

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