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With clock ticking on bear cubs, zoo remains short of fundraising goal

Chris Caya/WBFO News

The Buffalo Zoo is facing a time crunch when it comes to raising money for its new Arctic Edge polar bear exhibit. The futures of the zoo's two polar bear cubs, Luna and Kali, could depend on whether that goal is met soon. Zoo President Donna Fernandes said Wednesday the North Buffalo attraction is still $2 million short of its $18 million goal.

Luna and Kali have been popular attractions this summer, but Fernandes says they'll need to move to larger habitats as they continue to grow. She says if construction on the Arctic Edge exhibit doesn't begin this fall, the two bears will be sent somewhere that can accommodate their growing size.

"If we delay, if we can't begin for another year, the bears will 'size out' of the size that they're allowed to stay here in a non-AZA standard exhibit. We got permission on the short term to hold them here, but if they get too big because the new exhibit isn't ready, they will be sent out," Fernandes said.

The president says for now, the zoo is considering moving the cubs into what's now the tiger exhibit, which would allow for the deeper swimming pool required by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Fernandes says the project is about to go out to bid.  She says she is hoping the city or state can come through to help secure the remaining funds.

"Communities around the country over the last five years have spent between $12-30 million on brand new polar bear exhibits, and that's what we're competing with," said Fernandes. "We don't control the destiny of our animals. It's up to this management group and if there's lots of places out there with brand new exhibits asking for our bears, that's the pressure we're facing to send our bears elsewhere."

Meanwhile, two local businessmen have teamed up to help the zoo raise money for a new bear exhibit.

Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News
Russell Salvatore, Donna Fernandes, and Paul Billoni announced the fundraising partnership at the zoo Wednesday.

Russell Salvatore, who owns Salvatore's Grand Hotel and Russell's Steaks and Chops, and Paul Billoni, president and owner of Colvin Cleaners, have entered into a unique partnership. Billoni has purchased 100 copies of Salvatore's memoir "Well Done - From Skipping Class to First Class: The Life and Times of Russell Salvatore" with proceeds going directly to the zoo. Billoni says his dry cleaning business will re-sell those copies to customers, for a matching donation.  

"We love the zoo. We love Russell. What better way to parlay our support with our customers to re-sell the book and double the money for The Buffalo Zoo," Billoni said Wednesday.

Salvatore says one friend bought a book for $1,300, a check he will deliver straight to the zoo. 

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