The National Zoo this morning hosted a cute, joyous press conference to reveal that State Farm Insurance Company has swept in to donate $1.4 million dollars to finance the Kids’ Farm for the next five years.
The pizza play area’s future is not as certain. Friends of the National Zoo is sponsoring a fund-raiser this Sunday to find the $100,000 they say is needed to rehab it. But the focus this morning was on the good news.
With speakers rotating at the podium and animals, literally, trotting out to take part in the occasion, there seemed an inevitability about it all.
How could this popular family destination have ever been a candidate to close? Was it ever really in danger? Or, as a skeptical local mother suggested to me recently, was this whole Kids’ Farm saga just a ploy by The National Zoo to bring in cash?
Not from Bob King’s point of view. “I was sick about it,” said King, the farm’s curator. King has overseen the area since it opened seven years ago, choosing most of the 20 animals — cows, donkeys, goats, alpacas, hogs, rabbits and a chicken — from local farms when they were babies.
He said in February, just before Zoo officials announced that budget cuts from the federal government would force them to close the farm and pizza play area, that he was told to find other homes for his animals. After about three months, there would no longer be money to pay for animal keepers, feed, medical care, shelter and other expenses.
“I thought if there was any place at the Zoo that would benefit from fund-raising, this was it,” he said, “I had hope, but I thought [the threat of closing] was real.”
His hope was well-placed. The initial announcement from the Zoo led to a strong community reaction. Fans of the area immediately pressured officials to find an alternative.
At the end of May, after King had chosen homes for all the animals but before he moved any, he said he got word to “go into a holding pattern.”
A few weeks later, he found out the news and this morning, smiling through a sheen of sweat, he celebrated it with his colleagues: The animals that he said have mostly never known another home, would remain at the Zoo for at least the next five years.