A valentine from two elephants


Anna and Dolly - the Baltimore's Zoo's beloved elephants - are sending out valentines this year in hopes that people will open their hearts and their wallets with $285,000 needed by Valentine's Day to help the zoo reach its $1 million fund-raising goal and to obtain a $1 million matching grant.

The zoo has received $715,000 from individuals and businesses since announcing in November that it was laying off 20 workers, reducing its collection by 400 animals and shipping Dolly and Anna to another zoo on a "breeding loan."

The first three weeks generated $300,000. Now, less than two weeks remains until the Feb. 14 deadline for the $1 million matching gift offered by a group of business leaders.

"It's clear that people do love the zoo," said Elizabeth "Billie" Grieb, president of the zoo. "We've got two weeks left to go. I know we can do it."

Contributions have ranged in size from two dimes taped to a letter to an anonymous gift of $50,000.

"As the public contributions come in, every day we feel more and more confident that we'll be able to keep the elephants here," Grieb said. "It all has come together in a really wonderful way."

The $50,000 gift is earmarked to help with the expensive artificial insemination process for the elephants. Each attempt at artificial insemination costs $15,000, Grieb said.

Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., Legg Mason Inc., Piper, Rudnick LLP, Mullan Enterprises Inc., Continental Realty Corp. and Wachovia Foundation have been among the large business contributors, zoo officials said yesterday.

Good news also has come from Annapolis, where Grieb expects to testify later this week and next in support of a proposed state budget for the coming fiscal year that would restore $750,000 that was cut from the budget this year. The state provides an additional $2.8 million a year in aid, Grieb said.

"If we meet the $1 million challenge and get the money in the budget, we'll be in a very strong position for the rest of this year," Grieb said. "Hopefully, if all this comes together, we'll be a very strong zoo going forward for a long time. There's a general feeling that the zoo is on the upswing."

The plight of the zoo and its animals has drawn a passionate response from people across the community, from schoolchildren to business leaders. It has generated spontaneous fund drives and prompted a zoo employee to resign and then continue to do her job - effectively donating her salary.

"From a statewide tourism perspective, the Baltimore Zoo has been an integral part of our tourism plan," said Karen Glenn, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, which oversees the state's tourism office. "It has a reputation of being one of the best zoos in the country, especially in terms of its children's zoo."

Glenn said she is optimistic that the zoo will be able to reach its $1 million goal before the Feb. 14 deadline.

The zoo faced a $750,000 operating deficit in the first quarter of this year and potential insolvency if the shortfall was not corrected.

A public-private rescue package was put together at a meeting in November in Baltimore attended by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and about two dozen high-powered local business leaders.

"We know that there are all kinds of worthy cultural institutions in the city, but we think that we are unique," Grieb said yesterday. "I am feeling really optimistic. I really am."

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