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Cecil County Life

Thriving and growing: The Plumpton Park Zoo's success story

Jun 01, 2016 12:37PM ● By Richard Gaw

Nick and Cheryl Lacovara by the inside feeding window of Jimmy the giraffe's new barn.

By Carla Lucas

Jimmy, the giraffe at Plumpton Park Zoo, is moving into his new home in June.

He's going from a cramped and barely adequate wooden barn to a luxurious, state-of-the-art building with radiant floor heating, 22-foot ceilings, and room for six. Soon (once the funds are raised), a female giraffe will join him in his new home. Then, in the not-too-distant future, baby giraffes should come along for all to enjoy.

The zoo is raising the funds for “Mrs. Jimmy” through donations and special activities. At their Spring Brew at the Zoo in May, everyone celebrated Jimmy's 21st birthday, and all the proceeds benefited the Mrs. Jimmy Fund. The ongoing fundraiser of feeding Jimmy will change its focus to saving for Mrs. Jimmy now that the barn is built.

Five years ago, the zoo was shut down; the animals were not being cared for properly and code violations couldn't be ignored. It was too much for the zoo's founder to handle, and new homes were being found for the animals. Cheryl and Nick Lacovara, of Mullica Hill, N.J., stepped forward to try to save the zoo, and the community followed their vision to keep Plumpton Park Zoo open in Rising Sun.

In the sixth season under the new leadership, many of the animals have upgraded living quarters. There are many new, exotic animals for visitors to experience. Plumpton Park Zoo is thriving and visitors are coming to feed some animals, learn about others, and just enjoy some time at this unique place.

Jimmy enjoys a bright, sunny day as he watches his new home being built.

 At their home in New Jersey, the Lacovaras keep another 75 exotic animals and refer to that property as The Farm. “It's been a long five years,” Cheryl said. “We've transformed this place in the five years and it continues to grow.” Now as Zoo Director, Cheryl oversees a staff of 17 – zoo keepers, maintenance, and admissions staff – and works with hundreds of volunteers to keep everything running smoothly.

“The Farm is becoming the hospice farm for the older animals that shouldn't be on display at the zoo,” Cheryl said. “We do not want to put our animals down if they have a will to live.” Former zoo animals at The Farm include an alpaca, a mini-horse and an emu. All are partially blind and were too stressed to be on display.

When the Lacovaras first started working on the zoo, they brought over two zebra sisters from The Farm. They kept the mother and a son zebra in New Jersey. Plans are underway to swap the son with another male zebra, and bring the swap and the mother to Plumpton Park Zoo to start a breeding program.

The two brown bears born at Plumpton Park Zoo enjoy a sunny day.

 New enclosures house a couple of the zoo's newest additions: An Arctic wolf and two brown bears. The bear enclosure will be enlarged with a bigger area to play as funds become available.

Rumor, the Arctic wolf, came to the zoo as a replacement for the zoo's two Arctic wolves (Secret and Whisper) that passed at the ripe old age of 16. Rumor came from Catoctin Zoo in Maryland. One of the Plumpton Park Zoo's original Arctic wolves is part of her lineage.

Once construction is complete on Jimmy's barn, new areas will be open for the public, leading from the wolves and bears towards the zebras. The fallow deer (first animals cared for on the site) will come back on display.

The brown bear cubs were born at Plumpton Park Zoo from Hope, a rescue brown bear from the Pittsburgh region. When Hope came to the zoo, the previous owners weren't sure if she was pregnant or not, and said if she doesn't give birth in December she wasn't pregnant. In January, the two cubs were born.

There are special events at the zoo year-round. On weekends during October, “Zombies at the Zoo” is becoming one of the year's most popular events. It includes a haunted woods, a fright maze, and zombie paintball hayride. “You will be scared,” Nick said. “It is an event for older kids and adults.” This event alone uses 100 volunteers.

Families enjoy time together at Plumpton Park Zoo.

 As Cheryl looks toward the future, she hopes to build a new education building with classroom spaces and research labs. She envisions classroom spaces where teachers can work with curriculum set to meet Maryland's education standards. She also hopes to fill a need on the East Coast for a zoo keeper school where people interested in working with exotic animals can get hands-on instruction and proper training. One great source of donations and volunteers are local companies dedicating a volunteer day. Employees from Gore, Exelon, and Mars made huge improvements at the zoo. Currently, Lowes employees are building a new enclosure for the zoo's jackals. Old Dominion made a sizable donation toward the next new project -- a new admissions and gift shop building. Summertime features the opportunity for longer explorations at Plumpton's summer camp program, done in partnership with Cecil College. Six, week-long session for various age groups give youth a better understanding of exotic animals and zoos, plus the opportunity to spend extra time with the zoo's creatures.

To stay connected to all that is happening, join the Plumpton Park Zoo on Facebook. The website,, is filled with information, too.

Cutlines: All photos by Carla Lucas

(Text box): photo: Jimmy's barn

Jimmy's Barn

Jimmy's Barn is a 40-by-80-by-22-foot structure. The radiant floor heating will regulate the room's temperature evenly, keeping him comfortable. The barn includes an indoor viewing/feeding area and a meeting space where Jimmy can stick his head through to say, 'Hi!'

This new structure also houses the zoo's food preparation kitchen for all the animals. It includes a huge walk-in refrigerator, four freezers, and separate prep areas for meats and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination. There is even a drive-up entrance for the golf carts for zoo keepers to load the meals and get them to their destinations easily.

Estimated at $500,000 to complete, Jimmy's new home started with a two-year fundraising campaign where the zoo raised $100,000 and received a matching grant from the State of Maryland. The rest came from donations and volunteer labor. Among the major contributors were Mark Clark (architect) of Clark Design Group, Home Select Modular (metal barn structure), Tri-M Electric (all electrical materials and labor), Foam Insealators of Maryland and Virginia (blown-in insulation), Don Boggs (installed glass) of Bel Air Glass and Mirror, Muhlenberg Construction (installation services), Exelon (materials and volunteer labor), and Ikea (furnishings for meeting space and cabinets for kitchen).

The zoo will celebrate Jimmy's move to his new home later in June. Check their website for dates and specifics.

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