The Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation hoped to raise $20,000 at a March fundraiser. But donations from the foundation’s open house have fallen short of the goal, which is putting a strain on supplies and employees, said Christine Janks, the group’s president and co-founder.
Carson Springs has been housing exotic animals from around the world since 2008. Hundreds of people gathered at the foundation’s semiannual fundraiser recently to see the 100 different exotic animals the center houses.
Janks said events like the open house provide 40% to 50% of the facility’s annual funding. In the years before COVID-19, the foundation would make almost double that, she said. All of the money raised at the open house, which was held on March 25, will go directly to feeding and caring for the animals.
“During Covid, we lost one of our open houses, and we haven’t been able to make as much money since,” said Janks. “So it is super important to raise as much money as we can.”
Janks said that animal food costs have doubled, and the foundation has had to increase staff salaries to keep what little staff they currently have.
“It’s straining us to the breaking point, and I understand that staff has the same increased costs,” said Janks.
The facility hasn’t increased prices for the private tours it offers in three years because Janks said the center wants to keep rates affordable for as many people as possible.
All other visits to the facility are in guided tours that are reserved prior to the visit. Janks said that the open houses are the only times that people from the community can freely walk around the grounds
In the guided tours, Carson Springs staff tell visitors each animal’s story and other information about them, and the conservation work the foundation is doing.
“Our mission is to preserve animals in their natural habitat in the wild,” said Janks. “We do that by educating people about our animals and letting them form emotional connections. In doing that, people care if the animals survive on this planet or not because no one really cares about an animal that they’ve never really seen or know anything about.”
Katie Preti, 20, a University of Florida sophomore, said she heard about the open house through a friend and enjoyed the idea of supporting the wildlife conservation preserve.
“I didn’t know that Gainesville had anything like this,” said Preti. “It was nice to know that all of my money was going towards wildlife conservation.”
Preti said the staff educated her on all of the animals and their backstories. It was the closest interaction she has had with a tiger, she said.
The facility is part of accredited endangered species breeding programs. Lead Keeper Anna Foster, 27, has been working at the facility for 14 months and said the open house is one of their most important days of the year.
“This is our biggest event of the year. People love to be able to freely walk around our property and it’s also a lot more cost-efficient than our guided tours,” said Foster.
Evelyn Sampson, 45, said she has attended the open houses twice before and supports the conservation. The Gainesville resident said her two children like being able to roam the facility freely.
“My family looks forward to the open houses, and it’s for a good cause, so we don’t mind the 30-minute drive outside Gainesville,” said Sampson.