Aug 1, 2020 - Economy

Zoos struggle in the wake of coronavirus pandemic

People take photos of grizzly bears in the Oakland Zoo on July 29.

People take photos of grizzly bears in the Oakland Zoo on July 29. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Multiple zoos and aquariums across the U.S. face budget shortfalls after the coronavirus pandemic forced closures at the start of the busiest season for most animal parks, AP reports.

Why it matters: Hundreds of zoos are resorting to layoffs and pay reductions to respond to the pandemic’s impact. Though some zoos and aquariums have reopened, they are seeing fewer visitors, leaving administrators to ask their communities for support.

  • Closing zoos and aquariums is expensive because administrators have to find new homes for animals and coordinate transportation to another location.

What they're saying: “Members are hitting 20% to 50% of their normal revenue targets,” said Dan Ashe, president of the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told AP.

  • Roughly 75% of the 220 U.S. zoos and aquariums represented by the association reopened, but they’re still having to make “very difficult decisions about further furloughs or layoffs and then ultimately about their survival,” Ashe said.
  • Six in 10 members received federal assistance from the coronavirus relief package but that support runs out this month.
  • “We have already lost the bulk of our summer revenue and are living off whatever reserves we have left, but they are going to run out at some point,” Joel Parrott, president of the Oakland Zoo, told AP.

The big picture: The Oakland Zoo, which houses 750 large animals, laid off at least 100 employees. 200 employees who care for animals are still working and contribute to the zoo’s $1.2 million a month in costs.

  • The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Garden in laid off 40% of its staff, cut leadership salaries and launched a campaign to raise $1.5 million by December to restore the zoo’s operating budget.
Go deeper