Sierra Safari Zoo president Julie Cerne was all smiles introducing us to the family: "This is Papi. They are white-nosed Coatimundis!"  Where else...but here. The Sierra Safari Zoo first opened 30 years ago this month. As Julie told me, "I love it. If I didn't love it I wouldn't be here!"

But it seems that zoos have lost some innocence over the years. Keeping animals in captivity for human entertainment is more controversial now. Manager Cheryl Jones knows. She's been working with exotic animals for 35 years now. As she told me, "They're my life, they're my children. They're, they're everything to me."

But lately, the local zoo, the only one in the state (Animal Ark is a wildlife sanctuary) needs some help. The volunteer staff tries to keep up, but there's a lot of wear and tear. Cheryl hears it from visitors. "When you get somebody coming in here and telling you that this needs to be done, that needs to be done, then step up, help us out. Come and help us do the daily chores here."

Its a good cause. For the animals, the zoo's a life saver. Many came from animal control, other zoos and private collections. Elvira the crocodile was rescued from a Reno house fire. Titan the tiger was born in a zoo out east but was rejected by his mother. The zoo took him in.

Or they began life here, like the South American Cavy Pantagonia, born just 20 minutes before we arrived and already talking (with little whines). 4 others were born just over the last 10 days. The 2 moms, Paula and Betty, and babies all doing fine. Another newcomer is Legacy, a Zebu Asian cow born just yesterday (Monday). As Julie said, "It seems like every day, there's something new that happens here."

There is renewal here, and new animals are on the way, including Marty the Zebra and Hunter the Cougar. Cheryl says all spaces and cages will be full again by October…they just need $5000 for Hunter's enclosed space. There is a long wish list here. Julie says, "We'd love to get the building painted, if somebody would like to reach out for that. We'd love to get the front landscaped."

They also want to finally get credentialed by the Zoological Association of America. They think adding another acre will do that. All of them, including Coco the Camel…Nikita the Lion… Titan the Tiger...and the herd of fallow deer in the petting area are there to share some love and educate, as zoos like this move the focus from captivity, to conservation. As Cheryl Jones says, the job here at Sierra Safari is, "Making sure they had a place to go forever."

The Sierra Safari Zoo is non-profit, with admission prices ranging from $7 to $11. And the next 3 weekends are "Cool August Nights", with the zoo open until 7:00pm. And to volunteer or help fund Hunter's new enclosure, we have a link to their site below: