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Tensions become heated at Cypress Park meeting, future of zoo un - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Tensions become heated at Cypress Park meeting, future of zoo unclear

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BENTON, La. (KTBS) -

Funding woes are endangering a Bossier Parish zoo's future as an animal rehab facility.

Cypress Black Bayou Recreation Area's board of directors is taking a closer look at spending and how taxpayer money is being used.

Tensions became heated - and voices raised - at a Tuesday afternoon board of directors meeting at the park's Nature Center in Benton, and now it's unclear if the zoo still has a veterinarian on staff.

It was a packed house, with dozens of people in the community coming out to voice their concerns over the issue of how the zoo will continue as a rehabilitation center for severely wounded or sick animals.

At one point, after several minutes of public comment and discussion, Interim Director of Cypress Black Bayou Lake Commission, Robert Berry, called out the zoo's veterinarian, Dr. Gia Morgan, to stand up and speak for herself instead of watching everyone else speak.

Morgan became upset, stating that she had resigned, and walked out out of the meeting.

"I have the utmost respect for Dr. Morgan, as do most people who know her in the community. So right now, I'm still in shock. Of course, our concern is for the safety of the animals going forward," says Kathleen Parsons with the Cypress Zoo.

The board is currently working out the best way to begin what they're calling a zoo transition, back to what Berry says was the original plan for the zoo when the property tax millage was passed back in 2005.

"It's a tremendous educational resource for our schools and for the children," says Shreveport resident John Fox.

Fox says he doesn't want to see the zoo be forced to shut down its rehabilitation operations.

"Unfortunately, some of those animals are so sick or so injured that they're unable to be released and that's where the zoo provides them a home."

But signs posted across the facility prohibit exactly what Berry says the park was originally intended to offer - and what taxpayers funded - a children's petting zoo.

"We'd like to see a little more of the interacting with the kids and the animals that are over there," he says.

Berry says the new five member board, in place now nearly a year, began taking a closer look at the park's financials six months ago and found they were facing a $500,000 deficit.

That was partly due to mismanagement of staff overtime and expenses by the previous board.

"We had to tighten things up for 30 days and see [if we could get it in order.] We felt like we could, and we did. We made some drastic cuts in our security and other staffing."

He says the zoo costs about $11,000 a month to run, caring for animals that are found by park staff or brought in by the public.

But going forward, Berry says, they simply can't afford to accept any more animals, at least not until the zoo presents a master plan of its own.

"There comes a time and place when you've got to be responsible for what you're governed to do."

Still, it's tough to accept for area residents.

"I don't think the board realizes that we, as residents, do consider the zoo a priority."

Berry says they've got to live within their means, with many of the structures at the park approaching 42 years old, he says he's got to think about other necessary maintenance around the facilities.

But those who work and volunteer there say they feel like they're been given an unfair ultimatum - find their own funding or else.

At a December meeting, the board decided that it would no longer fund the exotic animals that live at the zoo and that any donations made to the zoo must be given directly and immediately to the administration office.

Additionally, no more animals will be accepted in the rehab center for the first quarter of the year.

The zoo must present a monthly status report with a detailed budget.

The board will make a final decision regarding funding for the exotic animals, and rehab center, at their April meeting.

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