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Revamped Moapa zoo hopes to reopen in September — VIDEO

MOAPA

An exotic animal petting zoo 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas has been cleared to reopen its gates, just as soon as it gets all of its kangaroos in a row.

Roos-N-More has targeted Labor Day weekend for its first open zoo day in more than two years.

Owner Jay Holt said the opening could be a month or two earlier, but he’s not taking any chances.

“This has been such a long process,” said Holt, who founded the zoo with his wife and fellow veterinarian, Valerie, in 2008. “We want to make sure every i is dotted, every t is crossed and everything is right.”

By waiting until early September to reopen, they also hope to skirt the worst of the summer heat, which can be even more punishing in Moapa than it is in Las Vegas.

County regulators shuttered the zoo in January 2014 after an inspection identified several code violations, including a lack of flush toilets or a commercial septic system.

The operation has survived on donations and revenue from private, guided tours ever since.

Clark County Commissioners gave Roos-N-More conditional approval last month to reopen with a host of restrictions, including strict limits on the number and type of animals and an outright ban on breeding.

The zoo is now allowed to keep no more than 150 mammals. It can open to the public for up to eight days a month, but no more than 200 people are allowed on the property at a time.

Holt said well over $600,000 has been spent to improve, expand and bring the facility up to code. Wheelchair-accessible sidewalks now meander past cages that will soon be surrounded by safety barriers designed to keep fingers away from beaks, claws and teeth.

Half of the money for the renovations was raised during a single 2014 fundraiser hosted by Zappos.com in downtown Las Vegas. Those funds paid for what Holt calls “the Zappos fundraiser building,” which houses a food prep area for the animals, bathrooms for visitors and what will eventually be a gift shop.

The zoo site now covers 9 acres, triple what the Holts had when they first opened, and there are plans to acquire 3 acres more between the newly paved parking lot and the road leading to the zoo.

Roos-N-More has launched a online fund-raising campaign at GoFundMe.com to bring in another $100,000 to finish the last of the work needed to reopen.

But arguably the biggest structural change is to the organizational chart.

What began as a four-person operation — Jay, Valerie and their two kids — now boasts five full-time employees with two more on the way, including a zoo manager.

The finances and operation are being overseen by a newly formed 11-member board of directors, which met for the first time last month and includes high-ranking employees from several prominent valley businesses and public agencies.

“It’s going from a mom-and-pop zoo to more of a community-run zoo,” said Holt, who serves as board president.

The transition also takes a lot of pressure off Valerie, who has long been the voice and the face of the zoo — her and her Capuchin monkey, Caico.

Valerie has been slowed by chronic auto-immune disease, and stress only adds to her health problems. This way, Jay said, his wife can focus all her attention on the animals again.

“She’ll be involved in a veterinary capacity and get to enjoy what she started,” he said.

The new board includes several people who started out as volunteers at the zoo, including Rich Hoggan, chief financial officer for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

“You get kind of invested once you’ve been out here awhile,” Hoggan said. “We just don’t have anything like this in Southern Nevada.”

Board member Dianne Parsons first started volunteering at Roos-N-More shortly after it opened. She said she hopes to see the zoo and its educational outreach programs continue to play a role in the community.

“They don’t have a lot to offer kids around this town,” she said. “We’ve shared these animals with schools and summer camps.”

Despite the changes, Holt said the overall experience at Roos-N-More shouldn’t be much different than it has always been. Though visitors will no longer be allowed to pet the “big” cats — including caracals, servals and a hot-dog-loving bobcat someone dropped off at the zoo — they will still get up close and personal with other animals, including kangaroos, camels, lemurs, monkeys, otters, porcupines and a variety of birds and reptiles.

“This is a big sigh of relief,” Holt said. “I had the opportunity when it closed to just walk away, but that wasn’t the mission. I absolutely want to leave this behind as a legacy when we’re dead and gone.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Find @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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