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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mayagüez zoo, shut down for 5 years, lacks permits to reopen

Interim Environmental and Natural Resources Secretary Anais Rodríguez Vega

By The Star Staff

It has been five years since Hurricane Maria struck the island and since the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) acquired the Puerto Rico Zoo Dr. Juan A. Rivero in Mayagüez, and officials do not know when it will be reopened.

The zoo does not have current permits to exhibit animals.

The zoo belonged to the Department of Recreation and Sports (DRD) but was then transferred to the DNER.

The information was confirmed by Interim DNER Secretary Anais Rodríguez Vega during a public hearing of the House Committee for the Development and Oversight of Public Funds of the Western Region chaired by Rep. Jocelyne Rodríguez Negrón.

‘’The people of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are very aware that the facilities of the zoo are suitable for the public’s enjoyment. But for that we need an opening date to be established and it is time for us to start working in the most responsible way,” Rodríguez Negrón said. “For this reason, with this public hearing we are taking a positive step toward directing the work and for the zoo to operate again.”

Rodríguez Vega said the zoo does not have a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the exhibition of animals.

“It was left pending until after repairs for the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria were done, which will be paid for with funds from FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act],” she said.

Likewise, the interim DNER secretary confirmed that on Nov. 30, 2021, the agency hired ADV Architects to make recommendations for the reconstruction of the zoo structure and present a design that, the official said, can take six to eight months.

To that end, Rodríguez Vega confirmed that FEMA estimated the damage to the zoo at $6.2 million, of which $5.5 million is obligated federal funds, with a difference in matching funds of $106,854.

The DNER received $1.5 million in ARPA funds, of which $775,179 has been spent.

“In addition, it is important to know the fact that to operate the zoo facilities optimally, between $5 and $8 million is needed annually,” the official noted.

Rodríguez Vega said the agency has granted contracts to operate the zoo. One of them is with Ana G. Méndez University for professional and consulting veterinary services for the animals. The annual contract with the university amounts to $187,200. However, the DNER granted a new allocation to the educational institution of $200,000 with a start date of May 24 until June 30.

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