Iguana escape, skeptical zebra can’t derail zoo-saving fundraiser

Not even a stubborn zebra or a mischievous iguana could spoil the success of last weekend’s downtown Las Vegas fundraiser for the Roos-N-More zoo in Moapa.

The two-day event hosted by online retailer Zappos drew more than 5,000 people and raised $250,000 for the small, family owned zoo, which will use the money to build new bathrooms and make other upgrades so it can reopen to the public.

“We came into this weekend smelling like a port-a-potty and came out smelling like a rose garden,” said Valerie Holt, who started Roos-N-More in 2009 with her husband and fellow veterinarian, Jay Holt. “Zappos saved the zoo. A million thanks go out to them.”

Clark County code inspectors shut down Roos-N-More last month after about four years of operation.

The Holts have since been allowed to reopen to small, private tours, but large public events will not be allowed until they install a commercial septic system and new bathrooms, among other regulatory requirements.

None of the code violations involved the care or condition of the zoo’s roughly 385 animals.

The Holts said they expect to spend between $220,000 and $250,000 to make all the improvements needed to allow the attraction 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas to accommodate up to 200 visitors at a time.

The goal of last weekend’s “pop-up zoo” event at Zappos’ downtown headquarters was to raise at least $100,000, including a $50,000 match from the online retailer.

But the event drew a crowd far larger and more generous than anyone expected. Organizers collected one $5,000 donation and several $1,000 donations over the weekend, and quite a few people paid for their $12 tickets with $50 or $100 bills and then handed over their change to the cause.

When the proceeds from ticket sales, gift shop purchases and donations topped $150,000, Zappos decided to double its match and bump the total up to an even quarter million dollars.

“If the community was to come up that strong … we decided to meet them the rest of the way,” said Steven Bautista, Zappos’ karma commando (and, yes, that’s his actual job title).

Staging the event was no easy task.

The Holts and their crew of about 60 volunteers had to transport and wrangle more than 90 animals ranging in size from a baby monkey to a full-grown camel. Then they had to do it all again for the second day of the event since none of the creatures could be kept overnight on the Zappos campus.

And in the midst of it all, Roos-N-More underwent a surprise inspection from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which licenses the facility for the exhibition and captive breeding of exotic animals.

Even Holt seemed surprised they pulled it all off. “It went so darn smooth,” she said.

One of the only hiccups came when “one uncooperative zebra” refused to be loaded into an unfamiliar trailer and didn’t make the trip from Moapa, Holt said.

Then there was the iguana that managed to climb out of its enclosure at Zappos and get loose, at least until Holt ran over and corralled it. “That was two minutes of excitement,” she said.

The upgrades to the zoo are expected to take several months, after which Roos-N-More will have to win approval from the county for a new special-use permit allowing the attraction to open its gates to up to 200 visitors at a time.

Holt said any money left over once the necessary improvements are made will be put toward something else the popular zoo will soon need: a new parking lot.

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

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