Zoo closes temporarily, furloughs 174 part-time staff, launches Facebook safari series

The current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s ability to remain open, welcome guests, and serve as a centerpiece of community enrichment.  While the Zoo continues to use digital tools to reach and educate its followers, being closed is hitting one of the oldest nonprofits in Cincinnati hard.

“We still have mouths, beaks, jaws and maws to feed and care for,” said Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard.  “Our animal and plant care team, veterinarians, and essential facilities crew all remain on grounds to maintain the excellent care that we provide each and every day of the year, while practicing social distancing to keep our teams healthy.”

The Zoo is encouraging its 70,000 member household families and millions of social media followers to renew their membership or purchase one as a gift for a friend or family member as a way to help bridge the gap.  Other ways to help include donating directly to the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fundadopting an animal and making plans to visit when the Zoo reopens!

The Zoo started preparing for possible supply chain issues weeks ago and thanks to that planning has food and medicine for the animals and has identified alternate resources for future deliveries.  But, as you can imagine, dinner for 2,000 animals is expensive.

Without revenue from admissions, events, parking, rides, sponsorships, donations, education programs and food/retail sales the Zoo will lose millions of dollars each month that it remains closed.  As a result, it was forced to lay off all part-time and seasonal staff, 174 valued team members, earlier this week.

“All employees are part of the Zoo family, and losing them is the last thing we wanted to do,” said Maynard.  “People love this place and we will welcome them back to help us rebuild when we are able to do so.”

Volunteers had already been asked to stay home, for the safety of all, leaving a massive void that will now have to be filled by full-time employees who are able to pitch in and perform more than their usual duties.

“Many of the jobs here at the Zoo are so specialized that only a handful of individuals are able to do them,” said Maynard.  “There are very few people who know how to care for an elephant or a hippo.”

Reducing contact with support staff in order to protect essential animal care specialists also increases their workload.  Without volunteer divers, for example, members of the animal and maintenance teams who happen to be certified divers are cleaning the hippo pool.

“Everyone is pitching in.  None of us have experienced a time like this and we are sticking together to take care of each other,” said Maynard.

The Zoo team has been working diligently to remain connected to the community. The response to the Home Safaris, live video chats that features a different zoo animal and keeper each day, the Zoo launched last week has been remarkable. They have had over 13.5 million views and a reach of 44+ million globally. People who appreciate the content have even donated to support the programming.

“We are being creative and trying to generate new sources of revenue,” said Maynard.  “The fact is, however, that we have an urgent need for resources to continue providing excellent care to our animals and to maintain our facilities, so that when this crisis has passed, we can get back to business. This community has always supported the Zoo, but that support is more critical than ever.”

The Cincinnati Zoo is an economic engine, a driver of tourism, and continually a source of statewide pride through world-class rankings and acclaim.  The Zoo welcomes 1.8 million visitors each year and provides a $143 million economic impact.   In addition the Zoo collaborates with Ohio’s leading research centers and hospitals, delivers world-class educational opportunities in partnership with hundreds of school districts and hundreds of thousands of students, both on campus, in schools, and online.

Traditionally, March and April are the biggest months of the year for Zoo membership sales thanks to Spring Breaks and cabin fever.  The Zoo relies on these two months alone as a major source of revenue to operate.

“You can feel good knowing that your membership dollars provide the support the Zoo is counting on during this closure, after we are back open to the public, and to maintain our standing as the Best Zoo in the Nation,” said Maynard.

Please consider purchasing a membership or donating to the Emergency Operating Fund online or send a check made payable to the Cincinnati Zoo (with Emergency Fund in the memo) to Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Development, 3400 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH  45220.  Staff can be reached at [email protected] or 513-559-7716.

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