A plea last week by Oakland Zoo officials to allow it to reopen soon or risk imminent closure due to the loss of revenue caused by the coronavirus has ignited great interest from the public and stoked financial efforts to keep the beloved facility in operation.
Alameda County health officials did not voice opposition to allowing the zoo to reopen when confronted by the zoo’s public appeal at a Board of Supervisors meeting on June 30. Instead, they deferred to the state and its definition of a zoos within the parameters of its phases for reopening the economy.
A letter, meanwhile, has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom from the head of the Alameda County Health Care Service Agency asking for clarity on the state’s plans for allowing zoos to reopen.
Oakland Zoo officials last week contend their facility is akin to an outdoor museum, a type of business that is already allowed to resume business. Alameda County, which has been slower than most counties in approving new phases for reopening, allowed outdoor museums to reopen on June 19.
In the letter dated July 7, Colleen Chawla, the director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, agrees with the Oakland Zoo’s interpretation.
“We favor allowing lower-risk outdoor activities over higher-risk indoor activities wherever possible, and are puzzled by the State’s classification of zoos in the same category as indoor museums,” Chawla wrote in the letter also addressed to the state’s director of health and human services, and state public health officer. “We respectfully request clarification about the State’s rationale and urge you to consider grouping zoos with outdoor museums.”
Chawla argues the Oakland Zoo is similar to public parks, botanical gardens, and outdoor museums. Based on the state’s guidance for reopening outdoor museums, Chawla wrote, “We believe the Oakland Zoo is more closely related to outdoor museums than indoor museums, galleries, and aquariums.”
In addition, with state and local parks at risk for overcrowding during the pandemic, allowing the Oakland Zoo to reopen as a outdoor museum would alleviate some of the potential traffic and congestion, Chawla added.
Under the Oakland Zoo’s proposed plan for reopening, it would close its playgrounds and indoor spaces, lower daily attendance, and suspends shows and demonstrations.
Oakland Zoo officials said the facility is losing millions each month after an abrupt drop in ticket revenue due to the pandemic. Layoffs, in the meantime, have followed. Those remaining on the job continue to care for the zoo’s animals and maintaining upkeep of the facility.
What the State is deliberately doing to this outdoor – NOT indoor – zoo is going to cause a public relations nightmare for Gavin Newsome. There is NO reason to classify it for a stage 3 opening, which puts the zoo on a guaranteed road to failure before ever being allowed to re-open. The zoo cannot survive on donations alone – it needs the gate money, which is primarily earned during the spring and summer months. That money in turn is used to carry the zoo through the winter months, when visitation is low. If they are not allowed to open within the next month, they will only have enough funds to pay for the needs of the animals for three more months. At that point, the zoo will revert back to the city of Oakland. The city has already indicated that it does not have the funds to keep the zoo going. What is not stated is what will happen to the 700 animals that live there at that point. The city of Oakland not only cannot fund the operations and care of the animals, but they clearly are not competent to overtake this amazing zoo. I lived in Oakland from 1959 on, and visited the zoo several times before Dr. Parrot took it over and transformed it into the jewel of Oakland that it now is. Before he came along, I also worked there a time or two to work off traffic tickets, and I can tell you that this zoo before Parrot arrived was a very sad place for the animals living there. Since the city has neither the means nor the will to take care of it, the animals will suffer neglect – and worse – once their home is put under the city’s management. And the State is very well aware of this.
Another option for a zoo that’s ‘failing’ is for other zoos to be contacted and asked if they can take the animals in. This has been possible during more normal times. But with the COVID19 lockdowns, zoos are failing worldwide. That means that the animals will have nowhere else to go. And with no funds to feed or take care of them, what do you suppose will happen to them? Most likely at some point, they will have to be euthanized. And why? Because the State of California refuses to let them open even though they clearly qualify for a Stage 2 opening designation (i.e., as an outdoor museum). I remember back in 1996 how upsetting it was not only for the zoo employees, but for the many fans of the zoo when the baby elephant Kijana suddenly passed away. How will the public feel when all 700 animals have to be disposed of one way or another, with the zoo closed for good? Newsome, you are planting the seeds to lose your grasp on the residents of California. You can only pull the COVID card so many times before nonsensical decisions like this one will expose the fraud you’re operating under.
If the State wants to classify the zoo as an outdoor museum or give it a variance, it can do so by tomorrow. I worked for the State of California for 30 years, and I know quite a bit about how it operates. Incompetence is rampant at the lower levels, but nothing is done by accident at the governor’s level. If something makes no sense, you can bet there’s an agenda behind it. My guess is that someone very connected wants that land, and the way to get it for pennies on the dollar is to bankrupt the zoo itself. But if that happens, that could be the first of many casualties that prompts the public to say enough is enough. If the governor wants to keep control of locking us down, he needs to be careful not to push this tyranny too far, which he will if he shuts down this most magnificent zoo for good.
State Of California:Please grant variance designating the Oakland Zoo as a open museum .Also businesses in Oakland metropolitan area please donate to keep the OAKLAND ZOO open