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New England News

New Director Announced At Forest Park Zoo

       A venerable western Massachusetts zoo, which has struggled financially, has hired a new director, who vows to take the zoo in a new direction. 

       Sarah Tsitso, who has been in leadership roles with several local nonprofits, but who has never managed a zoo before, was introduced Tuesday as the new executive director of The Zoo in Forest Park & Education Center in Springfield.

   "This is truly a valuable asset for our region, one we all need to support and protect," said Tsitso.

          To put the zoo on sound financial footing, Tsitso plans to review the zoo’s exhibits, expand its educational programing, increase promotion, and raise more money.

    A financial report for 2015 showed the zoo lost $15,000 that year. Tsitso said the zoo finished 2016 with a deficit “under $9,000” and said a final accounting for 2017 was not finished yet.

    " I feel we are on the upswing at this point, and once we have our 2017 numbers done we will know where we need to be in the next 3-5 years," Tsitso said.

     Tsitso, whose previous experience included stints with Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity, the Springfield-based Boys & Girls Clubs, and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, went to work part-time at the zoo last fall as a director of development.

     Located on 4.5 acres inside Springfield’s largest public park, the zoo is a private nonprofit governed by the Forest Park Zoological Society, which is overseen by a 10-member volunteer board.   The zoo pays the city $1 a year under the terms of a 25-year lease.  The zoo’s utility bills are paid by the city.

    An annual operating budget of about $650,000 pays for a staff of five full-time employees, six part-time workers, and for the care and feeding for 150 animals.  Revenue comes from paid admissions, memberships in the zoological society, fees for education programs, rents for special events at the zoo, grants, and donations.

    Tsitso said she plans to more aggressively pursue grant funding and seek to restore a line item for the zoo in the state budget that was cut a few years ago. 

    New exhibits are likely as the zoo increases an emphasis on animal conservation.

     " We are working with sanctuaries and rescues all over the country to identify animals that would fit with who we are and what we are and need permanent homes," Tsitso said.

     Attendance at the zoo last year was about 50,000 visitors.

   Tsitso said she is lobbying to have the zoo included in the $1 million “image campaign” the city of Springfield is planning to launch later this year.  She said videos about the zoo are being produced to broadcast on local access channels on cable TV systems in the region.

   " I don't think we've always done a great job ourselves of getting our name out there and that is something that will certainly need to change," acknowledged Tsitso.

   At Tuesday’s press conference, Nathan Bazinet, the president of the zoological society’s board of directors, said he is optimistic about the future of the tiny zoo, which will observe its 125th anniversary next year.

    " If we are able to provide the kind of experience that meets our mission as well as the needs of our community, the sky is the limit," declared Bazinet.

   The zoo in Forest Park truly has a storied history.  The father of children’s book author Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel was the zoo’s first curator.  The Dr. Seuss book “If I Ran the Zoo” was based on the time he spent at the Forest Park zoo with his father.

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