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Published: Wednesday, 4/12/2006

Opening eyed despite problems

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Buoyed by money raised by schoolchildren and friends, Nature's Creek petting zoo expects to open May 1. But not everything is going according to plan.

The private zoo's insurance company has denied its claim to cover the damage from an accidental Feb. 9 fire that destroyed its heated barn and killed scores of birds, monkeys, and other animals, co-owner Peggy Evola said. She and her husband, Rick Evola, plan to contest the decision.

"The lawyers will have to fight it out over the way the policy was written," Mrs. Evola said. "We're crossing our fingers and toes."

The lack of a check means the couple may have to raise the $45,000 a new barn will cost by themselves. So far, they have $3,000. That includes a check from students at Mason Elementary, who donated the proceeds from a recent dance to the beleaguered business.

The Evolas are also looking for money-making opportunities. "Anything we can do to get funds coming in, we're willing to do," Mrs. Evola said.

A local church booked them to bring a sheep to a youth group service. Local schools have hired them to bring in a few animals and talk to students about the animals' care and lives.

Two weeks ago, the couple was pleasantly surprised by some unexpected help.

"A lady donated trusses for a 30-by 40-foot barn," Mrs. Evola said. "She's moving to Trinidad after a divorce and doesn't need them. I couldn't believe it. My mouth just dropped."

As for the rest of the barn, the couple has several months to build one. The need becomes critical when the weather cools again, as the partners expect people will donate animals needing heated quarters. And the circle of life will continue, bringing its unique demands.

"A lot of babies don't make it when they're birthed in the snow," Mrs. Evola said.

In the meantime, the Evolas have 200 remaining animals for which to care.

Even since the fire, people have continued to donate animals to the menagerie.

"There's a pair of marmoset monkeys, a sulphur-crested cockatoo, kinkajous - they're not a monkey, but they look like one - and a bearded dragon. That's a lizard, very tame," Mrs. Evola said.

"People were just ecstatic to give us one of their pets."

Contact Vanessa Winans at:

vwinans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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