Zoos Fear Forced Closure, Destruction of Animals

Zoo New England says a $4 million cut may force zoos to close, dump animals.

ByABC News
July 11, 2009, 5:57 PM

July 11, 2009 — -- Anyone want a giraffe?

A zoo operator says it will have to close a pair of Massachussetts zoos, lay off most of the 165 employees, find homes for some of the more-than-1,000 animals and possibly euthanize the rest of the animals unless the state restores millions of dollars in funding.

"It is believed that a minimum of 20 percent of the animals will not be able to be placed, requiring either destroying them or the care of the animals in perpetuity," read a statement from Zoo New England, which runs the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and the Stone Zoo in Stoneham.

The Massachusetts legislature approved $6.5 million in state funding for the zoos in its fiscal year 2009 budget, but Gov. Deval Patrick's line-item veto reduced the figure to $2.5 million, according to Zoo New England.

The zoos' $11 million budget is funded by a combination of state funds, zoo revenue and private donations.

"$2.5 million is not sufficient to continue operations of the zoos and will actually cost the commonwealth [of Massachusetts] millions more in subsequent years" in shutdown costs and animal care, Zoo New England claimed. "For this reason, Zoo New England and many of its supporters are calling for the legislature to override this veto."

Messages left by ABCNews.com Saturday with both Zoo New England and Gov. Patrick's office in Boston were not immediately returned, though a Patrick spokeswoman explained the zoo budget cuts in a statement to ABC News affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston.

"These are extremely difficult times across the state, and there have been tough cuts in every area," said the statement by spokeswoman Cyndi Roy. "This is an example of an unfortunate cut that had to be made in order to preserve core services for families struggling during the economic downturn."

In fact, the Massachusetts zoos are not the only ones facing tough times.

Animals at other zoos, including swans, deer and antelope, have essentially joined the ranks of the unemployed.

In April, 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 with 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 would 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 in April.

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.

Zoos in Kansas, Connecticut, Missouri and Maryland have found themselves in similar economic situations.