Even Zoo Animals Get the Pink Slip

"We still provide enrichment and variety but maybe not as much variety," she said. Given how expensive produce is, the zoo, like many families, she said, looks for less expensive kinds.

Pushed to the wall, the zoo sent a pair of hyenas packing to a zoo in Boise, Idaho. Some swans, a pair of lovebirds and an antelope were also sent to zoos around the country.

"In the grand picture of things, that's really all that people will notice," she said, adding that to do much more could threaten attendance and earned revenue, which is the last thing it needs when its other revenue stream is already so impaired.

"Our first priority is we don't want to do anything that will impact the guest experience," she continued. "That would be shooting ourselves in the foot."

Option of Last Resort

Facing a $1 million shortfall, the Kansas City Zoo in Kansas City, Mo., is doing all it can to avoid Dickerson's situation.

"We just tried everything to not have to send animals out of here," said Randy Wisthoff, the zoo director.

In addition to instituting the equivalent of a hiring freeze and trimming its marketing budget, it has cut zoo hours enough so that it only needs one shift of animal keepers per day. It has also cut travel expenses.

Anything but animal care, Wistoff said. "You can't lessen your care -- the care and quality of care you provide for the animals. If you can do it in other ways, that's what you do."

Not only does moving out animals dilute the value of the zoo, it's not an easy task to find new homes.

Moving Animals Could Be 'Monumental' Task

"My assumption would be that it's as difficult as it's ever been. There's only so many cages, so much holding space," he said. "With the budget crisis I have here I couldn't take anything else in."

As for the Bronx Zoo's restructuring plan, he said, "I would assume it's going to be a monumental task for them to do that."

For other zoos around the country, the Bronx Zoo's decision to move out hundreds of animals is disturbing, especially since many rare animals are among the targeted group.

At a recent hearing in New York City, zoo officials said the closed exhibits were selected based on maintenance costs and popularity among visitors, the New York Post reported.

Bronx Zoo's Decision Should 'Sound an Alarm'

"The Bronx Zoo has been a leader in conservation," said Gregg Dancho, zoo director at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Conn. "I think it should sound an alarm. I think people should be very concerned."

With donations down 25 percent and its state contribution in jeopardy, Dancho's zoo is in a kind of purgatory, waiting for a finalized budget to determine its fate. But as it adapts to a new economic reality, losing animals is not an option.

"For our size facility, any kind of moving animals would be a detriment for us," Dancho told ABCNews.com. "For a small zoo like we are, that would be a downward spiral. Moving animals out decreases reasons for coming to the zoo."

And though the "charismatic mega-vertebrates," like elephants, rhinos and giraffes, are crowd-pleasers, he said part of a zoo's mission is caring for and introducing the public to smaller, rare animals.

"I'm going to say that probably over 50 percent are species you've never heard of before," he said about his own zoo's roughly 80 species. "That's very important. ? All species need our help."

Still, he said, it's a "balancing act" for all zoos that is made especially difficult in this economic climate.

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