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Toledo Zoo covers pandemic costs with rainy day fund

So many businesses were forced to close and send employees home to work remotely earlier this year, thanks to COVID 19. But what about those whose work can't be done from home?
Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 9:50 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - When you have thousands of animals to clean and feed and keep happy every single day, shutting down the whole operation isn't an option. And those operating costs don't go anywhere, either.

Jeff Sailer is the CEO and Executive Director with the Toledo Zoo. He tells 13abc, “We have a lot of costs. Because we’re a zoo, the animals need to be cared for every day, 365 days a year.”

That means weekends. Holidays. And in a global pandemic.

“Even with the reductions that have been made, we are still looking at close to $1.5 million a month in operating cost,” says Sailer.

Those reductions have included cutting back on part-time workers, even cutting spending by 40% in June. But the zoo still spends about $78,000 a day.

Sailer explains, “That pays for all the keepers, the maintenance and all the custodial and security staff that you need just to keep the park safe and secure for the animals.”

Plus supplies for feeding and cleaning, and keeping the lights on, he adds. Taking care of the zoos thousands of animals isn’t a job that can be put on hold.

“Luckily, we had been really smart over the years and have kept a rainy-day fund and continued to add to it,” he explains. “So, we’ve been able to use that as well as our credit to keep us going.”

Sailer also credits its members. “There aren’t a lot of ways to make up that money, our membership has been wonderful, they continue to renew and buy new memberships, but it doesn’t make up the 1.5 million a month that we lost being closed.”

But actual attendance numbers have been down since the zoo reopened last month.

Sailer says, “This is great that people are coming out, but it’s not what it would normally be. It’s just about 50% of what it would normally be throughout the summer.”

And while tax dollars are helping too, Sailer says they only cover a fraction of expenses.

“In a given year, it covers about 12% of our expenses, and in a normal year that’s January, February, and March, when there’s not a lot of people coming to the zoo.”

Sailer says that he thinks the zoo has plenty of money saved to keep it running for at least another 18 months, but hopes that a vaccine or treatment is found sooner than that.

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