FW Children’s Zoo plans for uncertain opening

Coronavirus

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – With tomorrow’s opening day a washout, leaders at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo try to plan what an eventual opening day might be like.

“We are trying to make plans in the face of total uncertainty,” says zoo Executive Director Jim Anderson.

How many people can be allowed in the gate? In the store? On a ride?

“We can limit attendance to 1,000 people but if all 1,000 of them want to come up and look at the orangutans at the same time,” Anderson says before mimicking crowd control, “Spread out, everybody! I mean, we can try that.”

Unlike other businesses, the zoo can’t lay off animals or their keepers. Costs are fixed even when revenues are lost.

“We’ve got to generate 10 million bucks,” Anderson says of the zoo’s annual budget. “78% of that comes from our guests: memberships, admissions, train rides, hamburgers, T-shirts, Sky Rides, face painting, giraffe feeding. The other 22% comes from donations and from our endowments but the stock market’s down and donations are a little off. So, yeah, the financial side of the zoo starts to squeak, real quick.”

Anderson confirmed the zoo has applied for the Paycheck Protection Program offered by the federal government but has yet to receive any money.

Those funds could keep the 30-person minimum staff of animal caregivers employed as crowds stay home.

Anderson estimates a loss of $1.5 million if the zoo stays closed through May.

Yet even if health officials give an all-clear, the zoo will need time to ramp up.

“We have to bring on 150 summer employees,” Anderson says. “They’re all hired but none of them have ever set foot on the property except for their interviews.”

The zoo is trying to find a supply of sanitizer, masks and thermometers that can be readily available without keeping them from healthcare workers.

“We at the zoo realize that there are more important things than coming to the zoo,” Anderson adds. “Hats off to our medical personnel in Fort Wayne and everybody that’s lost jobs and suffering hardship from this.”

The zoo continues to offer at-home material for kids, parents and educators on its website.

Anderson, who announced his retirement at the end of this zoo season, says he’s glad he’s able to help the zoo through this storm.

“I couldn’t be happier than to be the leader of the zoo right now. We have an awesome team here. We have a supportive board of directors. Thirty people come to work every day, just like Christmas or Easter, to care for the animals. This team will do everything we can to do what the community has always expected. I am happy to still be the head monkey.”

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