Moapa zoo still fighting for happy ending

If you love animals and despise the heavy hand of the regulatory state — and I suspect there are a lot of you out there — prepare to be outraged.

Remember last year’s news stories about Moapa’s rustic Roos-N-More zoo? It was shut down in January 2014 when trucks full of sanctimonious inspectors from Clark County and the Southern Nevada Health District responded to a complaint about the nonprofit sanctuary’s bathrooms. The namesake kangaroos, the camels, the llamas and its hundreds of other creatures were well cared for. But someone who drove to the zoo, a place with piles of mammal poop, didn’t appreciate using a portable toilet.

And so a place that had been making Southern Nevadans smile since 2009, operating under government-approved special use permits with no problems, was closed. In a region that lacks a major zoo, no less.

The county allowed the zoo to reopen to private, planned tours of a few dozen people after it remedied minor code violations, but prohibited the facility from holding the “open zoo” days that attracted hundreds of visitors and provided the revenue needed to keep it going.

The county’s unnecessarily harsh actions made people so mad they heaped support on husband-and-wife veterinarians Jay and Valerie Holt and vowed to do whatever it took to help them reopen. In fact, when online retailer Zappos welcomed the zoo’s animals into its headquarters for a weekend fundraiser and collected $250,000, Valerie Holt declared, “Zappos saved the zoo.”

That money was supposed to help the Holts build a new, commercial-code restroom with a septic system and a commercial kitchen for preparing the animals’ food.

But more than one year later, Roos-N-More is still prohibited from holding “open zoo” days. And an opening date is nowhere in sight.

Satisfying the county’s requirements to resume normal operations at Roos-N-More has been far more difficult than the Holts imagined.

For starters, the county told the Holts they didn’t have enough parking. Although they are prohibited from having more than 50 people on the site — a number that would require no more than 15 parking spaces, Valerie Holt estimates — the county said the zoo needed a 230-space lot to have “open zoo” days again. A county spokesman said they reached agreement to allow a 75-space lot. Holt said she was not required to pave the lot, but she lacked the land for the additional parking. A donor paid $130,000 for the land to meet the county’s parking requirement.

Then there was the long permitting process for the new restrooms and kitchen. Holt said work finally started on the project in December.

By then, the zoo was on the verge of financial ruin. Holt said it costs about $1,200 per day to feed her animals, keep the lights on and make payroll, but the private tours she is allowed to run don’t come close to covering those costs. Neither do the traveling zoo events she still does across Southern Nevada. The Holts’ losses run about $20,000 per month, she said. Those costs come on top of the bathroom, the kitchen, the parking lot and other required improvements, which will run north of $400,000.

And then the September storms that hammered Moapa caused about $25,000 in damage to her property. And Valerie Holt’s health deteriorated because of Lupus and a rare neurological disorder. And Roos-N-More lost its Zoological Association of America accreditation because it’s out of compliance with local government codes. The zoo can’t re-apply for that accreditation until it opens to the public, but the loss of that accreditation means the facility is subject to stricter regulation by the state, Holt said.

Zappos stepped up to stage another Roos-N-More fundraiser, one that Holt hoped would allow her to repay everything she has borrowed to stay afloat. But the rains that came in late February postponed it, perhaps to next month.

“Every day, we just don’t know if the light at the end of the tunnel is a train,” she said.

Was all this really necessary? Did the Holts have to be run through the ringer to keep open a humble, rural zoo loved by so many?

No. Of course it wasn’t really necessary.

To donate to Roos-N-More, visit its website at www.roosnmore.org, and scroll down to the “Donate” button.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV.

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