Six-Year-Old Raises Money to Save Struggling California Zoo

In this June 6, 2016 photo provided by Steven Gotz newly born baby warthogs appear at the Oakland Zoo in Oakland, Calif. Zoo officials say the piglets are beginning to explore their surroundings. (Steven Gotz Photography via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Steven Gotz Photography via AP

Six-year-old Andy Soulard raised approximately $28,000 for the Oakland Zoo last week, in hopes of keeping its gates open.

Before 2020 brought the novel coronavirus pandemic, Andy Soulard and her family visited the Oakland Zoo’s 750 animals at least six times a year. But quarantine orders have kept the zoo closed since March, cutting off vital funding necessary to care for the animals — and employees. Last week, Oakland Zoo president and CEO Dr. Joel Parrott announced that it may be forced to close if unable to reopen in July.

“We have an urgent situation, this can’t go on,” Dr. Parrott said. “The important thing, right now, is to get permission from the state and Alameda County Health Department to allow the zoo to open.” The numbers simply do not add up: “We have about $3.2 million in operating reserves, and burn about a million dollars of expenses per month,” he explained, “so that gives you an idea that we have about three months before we run out of money.”

Andy’s mother Kelly explained the grim situation to her young daughter. “I was asking her can she imagine not being able to go see tigers and lions and bears in real life? And, only be able to see it on television or reading about it in a book,” she said. “It would have been a real travesty.”​

Prompted by her mom, Andy decided to do what she could to help. With seed money she received via a donation from the “tooth fairy,” the little girl began a crusade to save her favorite place. Soulard spent the week in her Castro Valley home making bracelets for donors to her Oakland Zoo fundraiser. Within a day, she rocketed from about $200 to over $13,000. By the end of the week, that total had more than doubled.

Soulard’s mom continues to encourage the project. “It costs $800,000 a year just to feed the animals alone, and so what I was telling Andy is you know what you raised so far, you’re able to feed every animal at the zoo for two weeks,” Kelly Soulard said. “So, I mean, it’s not too long, but its something at least.”​

The fundraiser will continue through the month, until the six-year-old must abandon the crusade in favor of elementary school. Asked how she feels about the results of her work, Andy’s answer was simple. “Makes me feel happy,” she said.

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