“And this new (unidentified) zoo will be able to provide (African lions Kenya and Dixie) with more.”
— Stephanie Stowell,
ABQ BioPark Zoo director
What a sad commentary about one of the biggest tourist attractions in New Mexico — the ABQ BioPark Zoo.
The zoo announced last week that its two African lions, 9-year-old brother and sister Kenya and Dixie, are being moved to a new, undisclosed zoo because the lions’ accommodations in Albuquerque have become outdated.
Kenya and Dixie, among zoo visitors’ favorite animals, were born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and moved to Albuquerque in 2016. They’re expected to depart this month for “a home that has a more complex and robust habitat for them, as well as better facilities … for the keepers,” said Stephanie Stowell, BioPark director.
We’re all for a better habitat for the lions and their keepers, but why not here?
Kenya and Dixie’s 3,136-square-foot enclosure was built in 1984 and includes a moat that turned out not to appeal to the lions — they prefer to sprawl out on a wooden platform and raise their heads in curiosity as children and other visitors flow by. From this platform, Kenya often emits his roar, which can be heard throughout the neighborhood.
“So, 40 years ago, that lion habitat and all those other habitats were state of the art,” Stowell says.
Since then, the zoo has made many changes and updates — including bringing in such new exhibits as otters and penguins — but wouldn’t it have made sense to also plan for an updated home for the popular King of the Jungle? Stowell says the zoo has long-term plans for improvements to its “catwalk,” but no specific plans for renovations that would include lions. It’s disturbing that the only “plan” for Kenya and Dixie was to ship them off.
Their departure follows the heart-wrenching discovery of a male Bengal tiger cub Albuquerque police found inside a dog crate in a mobile home in January. The rescued cub, Duke, was cared for shortly at the BioPark and gained 5 pounds, but zoo officials said the 4-month-old cub could not be placed in a breeding program or accredited zoo because his genetic lineage was unknown. So, the endangered Bengal tiger was moved to an animal sanctuary in Colorado. What a shame he wasn’t able to live long in the city after which he was named and in which he had become a rock star.
The BioPark’s Asia exhibit, currently under construction, will be home to Malayan tigers, a smaller and different type of tiger, but it won’t have Duke, or Kenya and Dixie.
Sending high-profile exhibits elsewhere is a blow to the BioPark and certainly can’t help it retain its spot as a top attraction in the state. The time for updating the lions’ enclosure was yesterday.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.