Covid-19: Oakland Zoo says its running out of money and at risk of closure

The Oakland Zoo is losing $2.5 million a month in revenue due to the shelter in place, zoo officials said on Tuesday.

The Oakland Zoo is bleeding money and at risk of closure if it does not reopen soon, its executive vice president said.

Alameda County beatThe Oakland Zoo, which has been closed since the covid-19 shelter in place was ordered in mid-March, is losing $2.5 million in revenue each month due to the closure, Nik Dehejia, the Oakland Zoo executive vice president, told the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are at risk of closure due to financial distress if we cannot open,” Dehejia added.

Zoo officials argue their business could be interpreted as an outdoor museum, which county public health officials allowed to reopen with certain health and safety restriction on June 19.

County public health officials have been working with the zoo for months in anticipation of safely reopening, including plans to close indoor facilities and rides to the public, along with the outdoor children’s theater. The Sacramento Zoo recently reopened with limited attendance and other restrictions, but Alameda County’s has been notoriously conservative when it comes to its reopening plans.

The zoo’s financial issues not only impact the county, but also the City of Oakland. County officials suggested there is little money available for bailing out the zoo, at this time. Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan suggested seeking donations through online fundraising sites.

Since the Oakland Zoo is run by a non-profit, if it cannot maintain financial solvency, its operations would revert to the city, which is even less equipped to operate the zoo amid record-breaking deficits exacerbated by the coronavirus. “It is in the best interest of the city and the county to reopen,” Dehejia urged the board.

“We’re really in a dilemma here.” Chan added.

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, also a former Oakland councilmember, agreed. “If [the zoo] reverts back to the city, the city isn’t going to be able to run the zoo properly and isn’t able financially,” Miley said.

In addition to losing ticket revenue for more than three months, the zoo continues to spend $1.3 million a month on payroll and upkeep of the animals and property, Dehejia told the board.

Two rounds of layoffs, including 120 employees losing their jobs in April, followed a reduction of the full-time staff and pay reductions for 40 percent of the remaining employees. “We are cutting ourselves to the bone,” he added.

In the meantime, the zoo was successful in attaining federal CARES Act funding, but the short-term infusion of money has since run out, Dehejia said, forcing the zoo to dip into reserves.