America's small zoos face grim future amidst shutdown

Posted at 1:39 PM, Apr 23, 2020

Small zoos come with a small staff, and amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, many of them are struggling.

The Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Massachusetts is struggling to afford the cost of feeding and housing zoo animals, especially with no money coming in.

The zoo sits on the southeast coast of Massachusetts on the way to Cape Cod. It's one of the oldest and most unique in the country, sitting only 7 acres in size.

"Everything from Asian elephants to small monkey species, otters, a lot of native species. A diverse animal population here that the community really loves,” said zoo director Keith Lovett of the animals.

It survives on city funds, fundraising, and like most other zoos, admission. Closing was, and still is, a tough financial hit. This is the time of year when Buttonwood makes the most money.

“Being in Massachusetts, we have a seasonality to our attendance and a lot of our fundraising events and well-attended events are in the spring and summer, so there are huge financial implications to that as well,” he explained.

Like other zoos, it's already an expensive operation. People have now been furloughed and positions have been cut. The staff is taking social distancing to the extreme. If anyone gets sick, there won't be anyone to take care of the animals. They're doing virtual events and online fundraisers but can't help but worry about the future.

“If this were to keep going for a few months, with reduced expenses we’ll be able to survive,” he said. “But when you start getting into several months, the second wave, then we’ll be much more concerned.”

Then, there's the breeding programs. Zoos move animals around a lot. But no one is moving anything these days, let alone a newly formed species.

“I will say that zoos are rethinking what animals they breed this year,” Lovett said. “The transfer of animals from zoos, part of the endangered species breeding programs, has basically come to a halt.”

That means your local zoo may be housing different animals when it reopens. As for Buttonwood, they've survived 125 years, and they'll do everything they can to make it to the next century.