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Fresno’s Zoo Kicks Off Centennial Campaign with A Huge Donation



Fresno Chaffee Zoo board chair Kyle Kirkland pledged a seven-figure donation to the Centennial Campaign. (GV Wire Composition/David Rodriguez)
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The Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s newly launched Centennial Campaign got a “seven-figure” boost from its board chairman, Kyle Kirkland, the zoo announced Tuesday evening in a news release.

Kirkland, a local casino owner and animal welfare advocate, made the pledge that kicks off the zoo’s fundraising effort. In a news release, Kirkland said the gift demonstrates his family’s “strong belief in the zoo’s mission and leadership.”

The dollar amount pledged by Kirkland and his family was not disclosed, and a call and email to the zoo were not immediately returned Wednesday.

The zoo, which recently opened its newest exhibit, the $42 million Kingdoms of Asia, already is supported by Measure Z, the tenth of a cent sales tax in Fresno County that voters originally approved in 2004 and overwhelmingly renewed in 2022.

Big Birthday, Big Bucks

The Centennial Campaign, marking the zoo’s 100th anniversary in 2029, is intended to augment the funding that the zoo receives from Measure Z revenues, Jon Forrest Dohlin, the zoo’s chief executive officer and director, said. According to the Zoo Authority Board, Measure Z has produced about $11 million in annual revenues since 2005.

“Our Centennial Campaign will supplement community support with philanthropic giving to protect the community’s investment, fund our ambitious master plan, and build an education endowment for future generations,” he said. “We deeply appreciate Mr. Kirkland’s investment in the zoo and our community’s future.”

Terry Skoda, the zoo’s chief advancement officer, said that Kirkland’s pledge is “an inspiring first step” in the Centennial Campaign. Achieving the goal of turning the zoo into a “breath-taking” regional destination will require philanthropic support on top of the Measure Z funds, he said.

“In our opinion, the community has shown its selfless support for the zoo by passing Measure Z,” Skoda said. “It is our profound responsibility to ensure that the community’s investment is protected and enhanced by this fundraising effort for future generations of zoo attendees.”

Humble Beginnings

The zoo got its start as early as 1907 when unwanted pets were housed in makeshift cages at Roeding Park, and the exhibition of animals soon was expanded to include bears, local cats, hoofstock, and birds. The American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums recognizes that the Roeding Park Zoo opened in 1929.

In 1965, Dr. Paul Chaffee was hired as the zoo’s first director. Twenty years later the zoo was renamed the Fresno Zoo, and five years after that it was renamed again as the Chaffee Zoological Gardens of Fresno in honor of Chaffee, who had died that year.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email