Even Zoo Animals Get the Pink Slip


You know times are tough when swans, deer and antelope join the ranks of the unemployed.

Earlier this month, one of the most renowned zoos in the country, New York's Bronx Zoo, which is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, told New York City officials that as it copes the economic downturn, it would have to relocate some of its animals to zoos and aquariums around the country.

Councilman Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., chairman of the City Council's Cultural Affairs Committee, said the 114-year-old institution was on the verge of losing potentially hundreds of animals.

"This is how severe it is," he told ABCNews.com. "It's all about jobs. They're going to have to lay off 80 people – they're giving 80 pink slips. … We have to save our animals. We have to save our cultural institutions."

Recchia said he'd be devastated if the world-famous zoo became known as "a zoo without animals."

In early April, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that "In light of the challenges facing wildlife conservation and the changing nature of the global economy" it would realign its people and programs to accommodate a $15 million budget reduction.

Mary Dixon, a spokeswoman for the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Bronx Zoo, did not say how much of these cuts the zoo would have to absorb.

She also said the zoo had not yet determined the number of animals it would relocate.

"There is no set number decided upon what animals will be moved within the Bronx, to other WCS facilities and to other facilities that meet or exceed AZA [Association of Zoos and Aquariums] accreditation," she told ABCNews.com.

Among the animals that might get the ax: bats, porcupines, antelope and the camel-like guanaco. Dixon said the zoo will close the World of Darkness, home to a two-toed sloth, broad-nosed caimans and other nocturnal animals. She also said it will move some animals out of the Rare Animal Range and the southeastern corner of the zoo.

But New York's well-known zoo isn't the only zoo struggling because of diminishing public aid. Not all have had to move out animals, but zoos in Kansas, Connecticut, Missouri and Maryland have found themselves in similar economic situations.

Attendance Up but Public Funding Down

Though healthy attendance across the board is keeping private zoos and aquariums above water, those that rely heavily on state and city funding have had to make creative compromises and, in some cases, drastic cuts.

At the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo., long-standing budget issues in the city compounded with the economic downturn have forced the zoo to make do with less and less.

First, the humans felt the pinch: Travel and training, advertising and marketing, and professional services and supplies were reduced.

But then the animals took a hit. The zoo cut some extra treats out of animals' diets and also moved a few animals to other institutions.

Streamlining Diets, Relocating Animals to Save Money

"We have never had to do this before and certainly not for these reasons," said Melinda Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Dickerson Park Zoo. "We're keeping our main priorities -- the health and well-being of the animals and the experience of guests -- and trying to balance and do what's best for both."

Although animal care is the zoo's No. 1 concern, she said they were able to streamline their diets in subtle ways.

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