MOAPA TOWN, Nev. – Following the unexpected closure of the hands-on exotic animal zoo Roos-n-More for multiple county code violations, owner Valerie Holt and family have reached out to the community in a last-ditch fundraising effort to keep their project alive. Among others, the Las Vegas-based online retail powerhouse Zappos.com has stepped up to hold a fundraiser Saturday and Sunday, committing to match donations for the cause.
Holt, a veterinarian, never intended to start a zoo. But when she moved to Moapa Town with a menagerie that included kangaroos and wallabies, her pets became so popular through word of mouth that she decided to convert her hobby into a business venture.
The family, three employees and 12 regular volunteers care for more than 100 very different creatures hailing from the South American rainforest and African desert to the frozen steppes of Asia and the Australian outback. The zoo is unique in that it offers an engaging visitor experience; rather than simply watching the animals in their habitat, it’s possible to pet, feed and interact with them. For many, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Located between Las Vegas and St. George, Roos-n-More has drawn not only local visitors, but tourists from 20 states and eight countries. But while popular, it hasn’t been profitable. Operational costs are astronomical, Holt said, and the enterprise has struggled to stay afloat since opening in November 2009.
“We’re not in the zoo business to make money,” Holt said. “We’ve never been ‘in the black’ business-wise. Every day the zoo was open, we were more or less losing money.”
If the zoo is forced to close permanently, most of the animals will be sold to other zoos across the country. None will be given to shelters or put to sleep. They will drastically cut their staff and focus on offering educational programs.
However, that is the worst-case scenario.
“The zoo has put (the Moapa area) on the map. There’s restaurants, gas stations, stores in these little towns that we’ve helped support and all of us need this business,” Holt said. “We’re so determined not to give up. We’re gonna fight as hard as we can.”
Closure and financial crisis
The Holts were hit with a bombshell in January when Roos-n-More was cited by Clark County Development Services, the Clark County Building Department and the Southern Nevada Health District for multiple code violations, specifically a lack of handicap-accessible bathrooms and a commercial sewage system, and use of a residential building for commercial purposes. The zoo was closed to business, prohibiting any public access.
“On Jan. 10, following an inspection of the zoo, we issued a cease and desist order, effectively closing the facility,” Clark County public information officer Dan Kulin said. “A follow-up inspection on Jan. 27 found that some of the issues had been addressed, including the addition of portable restrooms. We lifted the order on Feb. 4.”
Currently, the zoo is open for private tours of up to 40 people and off-site events. However, profits aren’t even enough to sustain the costs of caring for the animals; on average, food for a single animal costs $2,000 per week.
In order to meet county code standards and reopen to the public, the facility must undergo a significant renovation, including construction of a new commercial building, with a price tag exceeding $200,000.
“That’s an unattainable goal without a lot of outside support,” Holt said. “We’re barely getting by right now.”
Fundraising efforts; Zappos weekend event in Las Vegas
A handful of Las Vegas businesses are running specials and hosting events to benefit Roos-n-More, including Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, DB’s Pong & Pool, the Artifice Bar and the Evil Dead show at Planet Hollywood. Zoo volunteers started an online fundraising campaign via GoFundMe that has raised $11,453 so far.
“Our staff, volunteers and fans have been a great support,” volunteer zookeeper Dave Eisenstein said. “We still have a long way to go, though.”
Zappos.com is hosting a fundraising event this Saturday and Sunday at their corporate headquarters in downtown Las Vegas, hoping to make headway in the zoo’s financial struggle.
“Roos-n-More is a great wonder of Clark County and our community,” said Steven Bautista, director of the company’s philanthropy efforts. “Our employees are passionate animal lovers, so when we heard Roos-n-More was in need, we wanted to help in any way possible.”
The Zappos event will offer a unique hands-on experience with more than 70 exotic animals from around the world, including the kangaroo, camel, owl, zebra, armadillo, dwarf goat, mini donkey, coatimundi, lemur, capybara, toucan and alpaca.
General admission for the Zappos weekend fundraiser costs $12 for adults, or $7 for youth age 12 and under. Interactive admission to the fundraiser, which provides access to all the animal enclosures, costs $35 for adults or $25 for youth. Tickets for the fundraiser are also available online.
Zappos will match all funds raised through the event up to $50,000, Bautista said.
If you can’t make it but still want to help, Zappos.com has the “Save Roos-n-More” fund available. As the zoo is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, donations are tax-deductible.
The event is expected to raise around $100,000; all profits will be given directly to Roos-n-More.
“The success of this event will depend on the community coming together to show its support for a unique organization,” Bautista said. “We can’t sit by and watch, so we are acting and asking the community to join us. And who doesn’t love animals?”
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Zappos fundraising event recap and contact information
- Date: Feb. 15-16
- Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Location: Zappos.com, 400 East Stewart Avenue, Las Vegas
- Admission: General admission – $12 for adults or $7 for youth; interactive admission – $35 for adults or $25 for youth
- Contact/more info: Steven Bautista – 702-943-7777 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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