Folsom museum goes wild about zoo exhibit

By: Laura Newell, Telegraph staff writer
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The Folsom History Museum and the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary have joined forces to tell the history and creation of the zoo. “This exhibit is combining two very fantastic community aspects to provide an educational and fun attraction,” said museum Director Mary Mast. While exploring the archives of the museum, Mast and museum coordinator Melissa Pedroza found scrapbooks that once belonged to Gordon Brong, Folsom’s Superintendent of Parks in the late 1950s. Brong was hired by the city in 1959 to guard a 48-acre city park site, Pedroza said. When he and his wife Elsie moved their mobile home onto the site, there was only a partially completed clubhouse and some newly planted lawn. Soon after, a ranger from the state Department of Fish and Game brought an injured deer to Gordon’s home in City Park. A second injured deer soon joined and a bear came in 1963. “The word spread about the man in Folsom who would take in orphaned and unwanted animals and people began donating,” Pedroza said. When he took in a second black bear and two orphaned mountain lions, the idea of a zoo was started. The Brongs nurtured and raised the animals in their home where possible. Pedroza said their “nursery” for the baby animals consisted of crates and baskets inside their trailer home. The animals were raised together with a lot of human care and each animal was given a name. “It was not unusual for natural enemies in the wild to be romping in play in the back yard,” she said. “It was not unusual for Smokey, or the twin cougars, to go riding around town with Gordon in his truck. Residents would often drop by to see the animals.” Gordon later realized these young animals would soon need to be in cages, so he approached the Folsom City Council for permission to build them. Pedroza said permission was given as long as he did not expect any money from the city treasury. After visiting local businesses, sometimes with his exotic animals, there were enough donations of building materials, cash and volunteer labor to construct the cages. During Gordon’s tenure, the city paid salary for Gordon and eventually an assistant and $300 per year for animal food. Gordon served as the city zookeeper until 1982, when he retired. Terry Jenkins, the new zookeeper, worked immediately to modernize the zoo facility and its operation. Under her direction, a “comprehensive improvement program” began with help from the Friends of the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary, Pedroza said. The zoo’s first master plan, an “in- house” effort guided by Jenkins, was adopted in 1984. It was revisited in 1987 and 1992 to expand some of the initial design concepts to guide development of additional land designated for the zoo in 1984. The word “Sanctuary” was added to the zoo’s name in 2002. According to Jill Lute, zoo supervisor since 1987, the museum’s exhibit explains how the zoo was started by Brong and then the operating standards and mission statement were upgraded and changed by Jenkins, bringing the zoo in to a new era of animal care and welfare. “Gordon was a very unique individual with a lot of love,” Lute said. “Now, we are a sanctuary. All the animals that come here, come to be saved. We get animals for reasons ranging from cruelty cases to being unwanted. We take animals who can no longer survive in the wild.” She said the goal of the exhibit is really to get the public in to the zoo to see all the changes and how it has grown. “We also want to encourage visitation to the museum to learn more about how we started, and of course, all the great history of Folsom,” Lute said. Today the sanctuary mainly houses native North American species, including a black bear, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, deer and wolves. There are also a handful of exotics and domestic animals including two tigers and some farm animals including horses, pigs, sheep and Zebu cattle. Lute said she hopes visiting the exhibit and the sanctuary ultimately teaches people to buy pets responsibly. “Be responsible when choosing a pet,” Lute said. “Because exotic or not, you will have the animal for its entire life span. And now, the sanctuary is full, so we can’t take in anymore unwanted pets. So many of these unwanted animals and reptiles will probably be set free to roam in Folsom — and most will not survive.” The “And It Grew into a Zoo” exhibit runs through March 18 at the Folsom History Museum, 823 Sutter St., Folsom. Museum hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. $4 for adults, $2 for youth, free for children under 12. For more information, call (916) 985-2707. * * * KNOW AND GO What: “And It Grew into a Zoo” exhibit When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, through March 18 Where: Folsom History Museum, 823 Sutter St., Folsom Cost: $4 for adults, $2 for youth, free for children under 12 Information: (916) 985-2707