Sign of the times: Bats pink-slipped from money-pinched WP Zoo; fans try to come to rescue
If vampire bats could talk, they might say this economy sucks. Crunched for money despite near-record attendance, Woodland Park Zoo on Tuesday sent a letter to members and supporters announcing it’ll save $300,000 annually by closing its Night Exhibit, which houses 61 animals including three armadillos and lots of bats. In a real-life twist on Survivor, the zoo knows so far that it plans to keep only one of three bat species (as yet undetermined). The other bats are to be booted off the island, so to speak, and placed in new homes outside the zoo.
Now fans are trying to come to the rescue via a fundraiser and a Facebook campaign, which argues, in part: “It is by far the best exhibit at the zoo and is pretty unique. While times are tough, we need to not lose the things that make the Zoo so great. For many this is their only chance to actually see the wonderful creatures that inhabit the nighttime world…”
Commenter Krystal Bishop agreed: “I couldn’t imagine a worse idea than shutting down the Nocturnal House. Aside from the elephants, it’s the only place I’ve ever seen kids RUN to once they get inside the Zoo.”
“If 100,000 people donated $3.00 each (the price of a latte), this would cover the costs,” argued commenter Becky Johnston.
Zoo spokesperson Gigi Allianic told the PostGlobe that the zoo “certainly appreciates” that fans want to come to the rescue. But she indicated that chances of success are practically nil. Even if $300,000 were raised, it would be a shortterm fix: “That’s only for a year.” Another $300,000 would be needed next year and each succeeding year. What’s more, the exhibit’s building is outdated and demands high energy use.
As the zoo’s letter reads, in part:
We don’t like doing this any more than any of you, but we have found it necessary to reduce our payroll and operations in order to manage the budget through this difficult economic period. The Night Exhibit is very expensive to operate. It is an older building with very high operating costs and its energy use is one of the highest in the zoo and inconsistent with our sustainability goals. We knew we could place some of the animals elsewhere in the zoo, and move others to other zoos.
Over the next two to three years, we will re-examine the building to come up with a long-term, sustainable operation…
For 2010, we needed long-term solutions that match our income with increasing expenses, and that meant reducing annual expenses between $800,000 and $1 million. This meant additional cuts, and a part of these cuts included the painful choice of reducing staff by 12 full-time equivalent positions. We also looked at a number of ways to be able to operate with a smaller staff. Closing the Night Exhibit emerged as the best of a set of unpleasant choices. Closing it will save about $300,000 in operating costs annually.
Several of you have asked if the exhibit could be kept open through donations. But unfortunately, that would be only a short term solution and not necessarily sustainable year after year while costs rise and the building continues to operate inefficiently. We will be opening some new amenities this year, including a new meerkat exhibit and a new west entry for visitors, but please understand that the money used to fund these projects come from donations specifically pledged to them, and those funds cannot ethically be used for any other purpose.
So if you want to see the zoo’s 19 vampire bats, six Rodrigues fruit bats and eight African straw-colored bats in one place, act soon. It’s unknown exactly when the pink-slipped bats will leave. “Could be a month to a month and a half,” Allianic says.
WHAT’S IN THE NOCTURNAL EXHIBIT
Sixty-one animals live in the Woodland Park Zoo exhibit:
- Rodrigues fruit bats: 6
- Springhaas: 2
- 3-banded armadillos: 3
- Pygmy loris: 3
- Slow loris: 1
- 2-toed sloth: 2
- Tamanduas: 2
- Australian gray-headed bats: 1
- Tawny frogmouth: 1
- Vampire bats: 19
- Galagos: 2
- African straw-colored bats: 8
- Coendous: 2
- Douroucoulis: 2
- Blind cave fish: 7
SOURCE: Woodland Park Zoo