Who’s taking care of the Zoo?

Social media posts go viral after photos show signs of neglect and deterioration at city zoo. City says claims are political, but Zoological Society leader lays blame at feet of mayor and city council

The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo is Monroe’s premier quality of life attraction, but some leaders of the Zoological Association think it’s not a priority and is being neglected. The city characterizes critics of the zoo as those who focus on the zoo’s negatives rather than its positives.

The issue came to light Monday after a series of pictures were posted on social media that depict scenes of physical neglect and deterioration that are different from those in tourism brochures.

The photographs posted by Robert Kenneth Wright received thousands of views since Monday including over 650 shares. Commenters posted a variety of comments that ranged from shock to accusations of political grandstanding.

The photo postings were a followup to a post Wright made in December that promoted the strengths of the Zoo and urged the public to support the zoo. However, this week when he posted photos of showing a condemned building, unsanitary conditions, rusty and dirty baby strollers, shingles falling from buildings, bathroom stalls without working commodes, a parking lot in disrepair and a five-year-old splash pad that was not appealing; there was an instant response.

The response to the photos prompted a response from City Public Relations Coordinator Rod Washington, who claimed the post had political motivations because the photos only showed deficiencies at the zoo.

“You show pictures of a building that has been closed for a few years and is expected to be razed in the near future. You show pictures of a dormant flowerbed in wintertime. Looks like most people’s front yard right about now. But, we all know that flowers return in the Spring. Left that part out, huh? You show a parking lot, but fail to mention that $200,000 in funding for planning and construction of a new parking lot at the Zoo is part of the City of Monroe’s Capital Outlay requests that were submitted to the State in October 2019 for the 2020 Legislative session. It is easy to visit any city and capture images that point out areas of needed improvement if that is what you are looking for,” Washington said.

However, the local Zoological Society has been complaining about the condition of the zoo for years. The group raises money for the zoo and volunteers to make repairs and improvements. Its Vice-President, Maggie Generoso joined the social media posts.

Generoso said the zoo has been surviving on a shoestring budget for the last eleven years and has generally depended on outsiders to make improvements. She said the Zoological Society has an Amazon wish list for members of the public to help buy supplies for the zoo.

   “With the mere budget that the Zoo has, the majority of it is spent on employee wages, benefits, and food for the animals. The money that is leftover is a joke,” Generoso said. 

She disputed Washington’s social media claims that intimated that the City was responsible for the new train. She said that the train was not funded by the City of Monroe, but by the Zoological Society, which is a 501c3 non-profit organization that raises funds for the upkeep and growth of the Zoo. 

A project pushed into action by former Monroe City Councilman Michael Echols, in 2018, the Zoo received a new train that came from funds provided by the Monroe/West Monroe Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Creed & Creed Law Offices and CenturyLink. The City of Monroe repaired the tracks at the Zoo. At the arrival of the new train, a photo was taken of the Zoological Society receiving a check for $150,000 from the CVB.

The train was not the only item of objection from Generoso. She said that the mayor and the council show little concern for the Zoo.

“Our parking lot was supposed to be fixed in the last year or so, but was conveniently overlooked. The Civic Center received a beautiful new parking lot, but the Mayor wants to build a whole new one,” she said. 

Generoso laid the blame for the zoo’s deficiences at the foot of the Mayor and City Council.”

“The mayor and his council have not set foot in the Zoo in God knows how long. They don’t show up for meetings that are scheduled. They don’t respond to phone calls, and they certainly don’t help with funding,” she said.

At one point a few years ago, the zoo fed the animals, in part with expired food it received from the food bank. Former City councilman Ray Armstrong said he complained about the practice when he was a councilman. The practice is not in force today.

The blame game and finger pointing continues. The city has requested the state to help repair the zoo’s parking lot, but the rest of the zoo’s funding problem remains an issue.