Niabi Zoo director talks giraffe death, zoo improvements

COAL VALLEY, Ill. (KWQC) – Niabi Zoo’s giraffe exhibit is down to two animals after the death Monday morning of 12-year old female, Mimi.

“She’s been a big attraction and a very popular animal here. So, it’s always a tough blow for us to deal with for sure,” said Marc Heinzman, Niabi Zoo’s director.

Mimi’s death is the second at the zoo this summer.  Her male calf Genesis was euthanized in July for a bad leg.

“Unfortunately working in the zoo field, it’s something you have to deal with,” said Heinzman.  “The animals here at the zoo are receiving the best level of care possible. If we couldn’t provide that to the animals, then we wouldn’t be having the animals here at all.”

Heinzman, who’s in his third year as zoo director, took us on a tour of the zoo’s newest and future exhibits: a koi pond, a new indoor animal room, and what may be the zoo’s biggest project in its history, a $2.5 million rhino exhibit.

Heinzman says each of the projects are vital on the zoo’s road to re-accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“We would really like to have our rhino exhibits at least moving forward with construction before we look to apply for accreditation again,” said Heinzman. “My own personal goal is that we’re able to apply by the end of next year.”

Niabi Zoo lost its accreditation in 2012 for issues Heinzman says have been remedied.  Many of the current projects are called for in the zoo’s five-year strategic plan announced last year.

In an op-ed published last week, Heinzman highlights the zoo’s positive financial outlook, current improvements, and community impact.

He says he’s the zoo’s biggest cheerleader and is looking forward to brighter days ahead.

“Once construction finally starts and once the animals have arrived, I think the community is really going to be blown away by what we’ve laid out here.”

As the zoo undergoes a physical transformation, it’s governing body, the Rock Island County Forest Preserve Commission, is being questioned in a new feasibility study by the Niabi Zoological Society.  The study released this month claims major donors won’t sign checks unless the county gives up control of the zoo to a separate non-profit organization.

Steve Ballard with the Forest Preserve Commission, says the board wants to work with the zoological society to make the zoo the best it can be.

Ballard says they’re planning a meeting between an expert who worked on the zoo’s five-year strategic plan and the Niabi Zoological Society next month or early October.

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