"We had paid staff to care for them even then, but we saw a greater need to help iguanas and lizards, and we knew we needed a larger space," Mark says. In 2008, they formed the nonprofit GLZS (glzszoo.org). The animals were temporarily housed in a building on Enterprise Dr. until they found the space on Jackson, near Baker Rd.
After more than eight months of renovations and the installation of an elaborate air-exchange system to keep its diverse animal population at healthy temperature and humidity levels, the new building opened last fall. The no-frills 6,000-square-foot space houses nearly 100 animals, representing about sixty species, plus a gift shop, and a classroom where staff present to schools and groups as well as birthday party guests. There are no extra fees for groups and birthdays, Creswell says, beyond the price of admission (free for kids ages two and under, $5 for kids ages three to eleven and seniors, and $7 for ages twelve and up). "Through word of mouth we're becoming a popular spot [for groups] because it's an economical choice, the kids have fun, and at the same time they're learning," he says.
The organization works with retired teachers to match its educational program to AAPS grade-level expectations, and focuses on observation and interpretation--not simply fact-sharing--to help kids draw their own connections and conclusions. At any one time there are several rescued creatures in the classroom that are used to spark discussion, including Stevie, a bearded dragon who didn't receive proper vitamin supplements as a juvenile and has metabolic bone disease that caused a curvature in his spine.