Zoos Fear Forced Closure, Destruction of Animals

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.

Zoos, Aquariums Well-Positioned for Success in Economic Downturn

However, even as public aid for zoos from states and cities dwindels, public interest from families looking for affordable outings is surging.

"They are well-positioned to succeed in a down economy," said Steve Feldman, spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the accrediting institution for the industry.

As families opt for "staycations" over more expensive travel vacations, he said, the zoos across the country are seeing very strong attendance.

At the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, N.C., good weather combined with people staying close to home has contributed to record weekend attendance. Dogged by financial troubles for years, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is also experiencing a bounce in attendance and private support.

"With limited resources, zoos have to make choices," Feldman said. "But I think they'll still be able to fulfill that mission even with those difficult choices having been made."

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