Nancy McToldridge, Zoo Director
Letter from the Director:
Managing a Zoo through a Pandemic
By Nancy McToldridge, Zoo Director
O

n March 17, 2020, the world changed for the Santa Barbara Zoo when we closed our doors to the public for the first significant time in the Zoo’s 57-year history. Ten days later, we had to make the difficult decision to lay off employees (more than half) for the first time. These events have challenged the Zoo beyond imagination.

What does that mean?
Closing our doors means no guests and therefore no revenue. Most (97%) of the Zoo’s operating budget is covered by admissions-driven revenue such as ticket/attraction sales, membership sales, food/beverage and retail sales, education program fees, and private/public events.

Though the Santa Barbara Zoo receives no tax-based income, the generous donations of our supporters contribute the final three percent of the operating budget and 100% of the investment in capital projects and community outreach programs.

Flamingo with Zookeepr
How did the Zoo respond?
The Zoo has always had emergency preparedness plans, but the COVID-19 event pushed those plans to the extreme. The Governor’s “Stay-at-Home” Executive Order effective March 19 meant only staff essential to providing outstanding care for the animals, maintaining the facility, providing basic business functions, and keeping our communities informed and connected could be on site.

Since we are now relying totally on the Zoo’s cash reserves, the difficult decision to lay off staff whose duties related primarily to guest services had to be made. No staff cuts were made that affected animal care and welfare. Those whose duties allowed them to work from home are contributing remotely.

Zoo staff regularly conducts live action drills to practice our response to fires, earthquakes, dangerous animal escapes, injuries, and so on, but…we never drilled to prepare for a pandemic! But because we do have a robust emergency plan, the staff responded quickly and effectively. With the animals and staff in mind, new safety protocols were developed, additional personal protective equipment was acquired, staff was trained, communication channels were broadened, and contingency budgets were implemented.

All of that preparation and training costs money. While some businesses can shutter their operations and attempt to wait out the storm, the Zoo cannot cease operating because of its commitment to providing excellent welfare for the animals in our care. We began the temporary Zoo closure with a cash reserve to get us through emergencies, but never envisioned a scenario of so many months without attendance income.

Can the Zoo get financial assistance?
We received a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan which provides some relief directly related to payroll and utility expenses. To run the Zoo under normal circumstances, it costs about $1 million per month. In the current situation, with layoffs and cost-cutting measures in place, it still costs more than $600,000 per month to operate.

We are now hard at work designing a plan to re-open that meets the health and safety criteria of the State of California and Santa Barbara County. It is our intention to welcome you back as soon and as safely as possible. Zoo members and supporters make all the difference, and we thank you so much for your continued support during this stressful time…we can’t wait to see you when we re-open!

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
The support of families and individuals really adds up!

How many Zoo memberships does it take to:

Train the staff in First Aid?
20 Individual Memberships

Purchase one small animal ventilator?
30 Family Memberships

Purchase disposable gloves each month?
6 Family Memberships

Purchase 1000 surgical masks?
6 Individual Memberships

Purchase animal hospital supplies for one month?
175 Supporting Memberships

Australian Animals
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
The support of families and individuals really adds up!

How many Zoo memberships does it take to:

Train the staff in First Aid?
20 Individual Memberships

Purchase one small animal ventilator?
30 Family Memberships

Purchase disposable gloves each month?
6 Family Memberships

Purchase 1000 surgical masks?
6 Individual Memberships

Purchase animal hospital supplies for one month?
175 Supporting Memberships