GOP politics pays off big for elephants at city zoo


You could call it Help for the Heffalumps.

Or you could call it a PAC for the pachyderms.

Or, if you were a Republican and your symbol was the mighty elephant, you could call it GOP-ADOPT.

But what is it? you may ask.

It's a bailout for the Baltimore Zoo in these times of economic distress. It's a way for the Maryland Republican Party to promote itself. And it's three squares a day, 365 days a year for Vaal, Dolly, Anna and Joe -- the city zoo's four elephants.

Because of a $350,000 slash in the zoo's budget, the care of all the animals becomes a question of some immediacy, according to Carol L. Hirschburg, a member of the Baltimore Republican Party's Central Committee and a member of the Baltimore Zoo Board of Directors.

At her urging, Marylanders of the GOP persuasion are raising $12,000 to defray the annual cost of medical care, habitat maintenance, carrots, apples and elephant grain (a special mix with consistent levels of protein, fat and specific vitamins).

Ms. Hirschburg, who is also communications director for Baltimore County, says she hit on GOP-ADOPT in her dual role as friend of animals and supporter of Republicans. The budget cuts ordered by city and state governments, she said, are demanding new approaches to financial problems in virtually every part of the community.

She said she has no concerns about raising money for animals when so many humans are hurting financially.

"The zoo," she said, "is a wonderful organization that has great educational and environmental programs as well as entertainment. It certainly has a place in our society. I think there's room for all kinds of philanthropic activities."

So do many other Republicans, apparently. Ms. Hirschburg has raised $6,000 in less than a month, half of the $12,000 goal she hopes to reach soon so that planners at the zoo will know the money is in hand. Fear has been expressed, within zoo councils, she said, that some animals might have to be sold or that some exhibits might have to be closed.

"I'm getting a terrific reaction," she said. She announced her plan during a recent state party convention.

The first check, for $240, arrived a few days later from Sohrab Rob Sobhani, a teacher at Georgetown University who lives in Rockville.

"I loved your idea about the elephants," the professor wrote in a note accompanying his check, "and wish you the best with your creative idea."

The zoo is a worthy recipient of this political altruism, Ms. Hirschburg said, because it provides a good example of the management that public enterprises need.

"The zoo doesn't spend an extra penny it doesn't have to," she said.

If Democrats want to get in on the act, they can inquire about the care and feeding of donkeys (the Democratic symbol).

The Republicans are expecting a plaque at the elephant exhibit, trumpeting their contribution.

A similar notice could be posted theoretically near the donkeys. As the out-party, at least nationally, Democrats might be pleased to know that the zoo has only two donkeys and the cost of caring for them is quite low -- only $25 a year, compared with the $3,000 it costs per Heffalump.

Elephants eat more, of course, since they weigh more: Joe tilts the scale at 10,000 pounds.

Any animal in the zoo can be adopted, according to Jane C. Coyle, the zoo's public relations coordinator.

The privileges, she said, include a photo of the "wild child," an official adoption certificate, a VIP decal for your car and a mother's or father's day card. An "Adopters Only Picnic" is held once a year.

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