Zoos on the Chopping Block

With state and municipal budgets bleeding red ink, programs from Medicaid to after-school activities are on the chopping block, at least until (unless?) the feds come to the rescue with a stimulus plan. It’s impossible to rank the saddest losses, but I admit to a soft spot for the zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens here in New York.

In fiscal year 2009 (which runs from April 1, 2008 to the end of March 2009), they were supposed to divvy up $9 million from the state's environment fund, but Gov. David Patterson, facing the largest budget gap in New York’s history, proposed cutting that to $4 million (with the result that some of the institutions promised some of the ’09 money have yet to receive their check, and have—in good faith—spent at least part of what they were promised starting 10 months ago). Even worse, Patterson proposed zeroing out the money in the fiscal year starting April 1, 2009.

How will zoos cope? Unlike a museum, which can close a wing or two to save on utility and security costs, zoos can’t simply shut down part of their operations: animals have to eat and get veterinary care, and plants need to be tended, or they’ll die. “We can’t furlough our sea lions,” one official of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo (2008 operating budget: $67 million), New York Aquarium (2008 operating budget: $15 million) and other sites (which get 12 million visitors a year), told me.

WCS is hoping to enlist public support to keep its state funding, with a clever video (produced in house) that will bring a smile to your lips. You can find it here. Whether it also makes you open your wallet or write your state rep to protest the plan to cut off the zoo, I leave to you.