Niabi Zoo is “tantalizingly close” to raising the half million dollars it needs to fund its new Painted Dog exhibit thanks to its share of $15 million in recently announced Illinois State Tourism Grants.
The state grant and the exhibit it will help finance also represent another leap forward in the ongoing evolution of the animal preserve near Coal Valley. And it will make the Quad Cities a more attractive place for newcomers to call home, supporters say.
The $233,000 grant awarded by Gov. J.B. Pritzker will fund almost half the cost of the $500,000 Painted Dog exhibit, a key component of the zoo’s detailed Master Plan. The funding awarded to the Rock Island County Forest Preserve District, which runs the zoo, is part of the second round of Illinois Tourism Attraction and Festivals Grants. It is funded through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars and was created to help tourist attractions recover from the impact of COVID-19.
The state grant comes on the heels of a $160,000 gift from the John B. Carver Charitable Trust to help bring Painted Dogs to the Rock Island County zoo, and it also leaves the project just $30,000 short of the goal.
“This is an exciting time for the Niabi Zoo,” Niabi Zoo Director Lee Jackson told the QCBJ in a Tuesday, Aug. 16, email. “In the last six years, we have been able to make a number of additions and improvements (big and small) that have moved our zoo from a small community attraction, to a modern zoological facility with top level animal care and an international reach.”
“The addition of African Painted dogs is one of the latest major additions to the zoo,” he added. “Painted dogs are vitally important to the health and functioning of their East African ecosystem, and they are active, intelligent, and beautiful animals with some of the most complex social behaviors of any carnivore. Not only will our guests love them, having them here will allow us to share their remarkable story with a community that has never had them before.”
The $500,000 budgeted for the African Painted Dogs will be used to:
- Provide a home in which the animals can thrive.
- Construct public viewing decks to bring guests closer to the animals.
- Develop and install educational displays to allow people to understand the plight facing this endangered species and how they can help protect them from extinction.
The zoo is urging Niabi fans, animal lovers and Quad Cities business and community leaders to join the campaign. Those two recent grants “and donations from our friends in the Quad Cities community, put us tantalizingly close to our goal,” Mr. Jackson said.
The Zoo’s website provides a wealth of information about African Painted Dogs, including that “they do everything together as a pack whether that’s hunting, resting, playing, or caring for pups. Much of the dynamic social structure of Painted Dogs revolves around family. With designated babysitters, group feeding of the pups, or caring for injured pack members, the connection between pack members is strong.”
Painted Dogs have been of particular interest to Niabi Zoo for a number of years. The zoo has been an active partner with the Painted Dog Research Trust (PDRT) in the development of field education programs. The zoo also has provided strategic planning material to support hosting bush camps for local children at PDRT’s Sizinda Conservation Ecology Center and leading education outreach programs into Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Niabi staff also helped prepare and launch PDRT’s website at www.painteddogresearch.org.
“Adding another endangered species with an established conservation partnership with PDRT will not only increase the conservation and education programs at Niabi Zoo, but also increase the zoo’s status both locally and abroad,” Mr. Jackson said.
The survival of such species makes sense for the future of a planet in which plants, animals and insects continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Protecting them also makes dollars and sense for communities these conservation reserves call home.
“The staff at Niabi is committed to growing the zoo and to continue making it the place to go in the Quad Cities to learn about and experience the natural world,” Mr. Jackson said. “Accomplishing this has significant benefits for our greater community as well. Zoos and aquariums are powerful drivers of tourism and are key indicators as to the overall livability and attractiveness of a community to persons and businesses considering an area.”
“As people consider employment in the Quad Cities, community amenities such as the zoo are attractive incentives to encourage people to move and live here,” Mr. Jackson said. “Tourists visiting the zoo are more likely to spend money at other Quad Cities businesses. Having a more reputable zoo with a conservation focus will increase community pride, appreciation for biodiversity, environmental connection, and the likelihood of supporting conservation efforts.”
Donations to the Painted Dog campaign can be made at the website or mailed to: Niabi Zoological Park, Painted Dog Campaign, 13010 Niabi Zoo Road, Coal Valley, IL 61240.
Sponsorships and larger gifts also are available. To schedule a presentation to discuss details and benefits of sponsorship, contact Mr. Jackson.
“Our fundraising goal is 500,0000K,” Mr. Jackson said. “I am confident that we will reach the final 30K in the coming weeks.”