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Published: Tuesday, 5/22/2001

Zoo goofiness

Zoo administrators in Detroit and Toledo have gone ape, and we put most of the blame on the Motor City folks.

Angry to suddenly discover that the Toledo Zoo was recruiting members by mail in nearby Ann Arbor, Detroit, and other points in southeastern Michigan, the Detroit Zoo quit offering free reciprocal admission to Toledo Zoo members.

So Toledo did the same to Detroit.

The Detroit Zoo withdrew from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's reciprocity program, through which institutions agree to let members use one another's fa-cilities. Such withdrawal meant Toledo had no choice but to deny free admission to De-troit Zoo members, Toledo Zoo officials say.

Detroit counters that it continues in other reciprocal arrangements, having made them independent of the AZAA. Maybe.

Nevertheless, the Detroit Zoo's action was peevish and shortsighted. Certainly it reflects little interest in providing a nice benefit in Toledo for its own zoo patrons, who might like to see what another institution has to offer. It also suggests a disregard for the 21st century's world of open markets.

It also overlooks the fact that Toledo - not suburban Royal Oak, in Oakland County, north of Detroit, where the Detroit Zoo is located - is the urban hub for many points within 50 miles of our city, whether in Michigan or Ohio. And it fails to recognize differences that distinguish each zoo, making them better suited as collaborators than competitors.

Making Detroit's attitude even stranger is the fact that a mere 0.5 percent of Toledo Zoo members live in Wayne County, where Detroit is, and only 14 percent, in Ann Arbor, in Washtenaw County, just 45 miles north.

Together both zoos could mount complementary programs that would benefit members of each. A self-imposed apartheid limits the horizons for both.

The Toledo Zoo, for its part, says it had to cut off free access to Detroit Zoo members, not as retaliation, but because Detroit pulled the AZAA's reciprocity plug. The implication is that it had no choice.

That seems more a bureaucratic response to the pique of zoo bureaucrats to our north than the creative problem-solving we've come to expect from the zoo's able staff and board. If they could just talk to the animals, they'd get an earful about the absurdity of it all.

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