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Oakland Zoo recieves anonymous donation

The Oakland Zoo recieved an anonymous donation of $1 million which it is putting towards its general fund. Above: one of the Zoo’s elephants with a view of Oakland behind him. (Kate Carmack)

In December 2012, the Oakland Zoo received an early Christmas present in the mail – a letter from the San Francisco Foundation that came with a check from the Serendipity Fund for $1 million which had been donated by an anonymous benefactor.

“This is the largest unrestricted donation the Oakland Zoo has ever seen,” Dr. Joel Parrott, President and CEO of the Oakland Zoo, said.

The donor asked to remain anonymous and advised that the grant be used only for general purposes. Emma Lee Twitchell, Director of Development at the Oakland Zoo, said that the money was unsolicited.

The Serendipity Fund was set up by the San Francisco Foundation to facilitate anonymous charitable donations. Other organizations to receive donations from the fund include the Oakland-based Family Builders foster care organization and the Women’s Cancer Resource Center.

The $1 million donation will be directed towards the Zoo’s general operations fund, which the Zoo’s board can use as needed, Twitchell said.

She also said that the board has not yet decided on what the money will be used for, but the Zoo is looking at improvements to be made and putting the money towards projects that do not currently have a budget.

The Oakland Zoo has experienced a significant growth in admissions over the past year, hosting over 700,000 guests, according to a press release.

The press release also said the Zoo’s animal collection increased this year with the new births of a giraffe, otters, a female gibbon and hyenas. The zoo foresees more additions in the coming year and necessary exhibit improvements.

“Someone has reason to believe we’re doing a good job, and we appreciate the vote of confidence,” Twitchell said in a Dec.23 San Francisco Chronicle article.

According to a Dec. 21 press release, the anonymous donation of $1 million has greatly impacted the Oakland Zoo’s ability to plan for the New Year.

“All we can say about the use of the funds is in our initial information, and that the contribution was directed to the General Fund to be used as needed by the Zoo,” Twitchell said in a Jan. 10 e-mail to The Campanil. “It is up to the Zoo’s President and Board to determine the most pressing needs and priorities.”

In Nov. 2012, Measure A1 was defeated in the city of Oakland. The measure would have incurred an annual tax of $12 per residential property and $72 per business property, with the money going toward maintenance for animal enclosures, additional care for zoo animals, and providing children with science and nature education that may not be offered in schools.

“We do not know, and have no reason to believe, that [the donation] has to do with [the defeated measure],” Twitchell said.

Many local corporations support the Oakland Zoo. As a non-profit entity, the Zoo relies on these corporate partners to keep our costs down and the Zoo affordable.

In a Dec. 21 press release, President and CEO Joel Parrott said, “every now and then, something truly extraordinary occurs at the Oakland Zoo that causes me to just shake my head in disbelief, and be thankful.”

Jen Mac Ramos, Annie O’Hare and Ruby Woods contributed to this report.