Zoos, Aquariums, Gardens Face NY Budget Crunch

Even New York's lions, tigers and bears are feeling the budget crunch.

State financing for all 76 zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums in New York would be eliminated under Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget, according to a report in the New York Times.

The drop in funding will take effect in April, which is the start of the next fiscal year. The elimination of state financing comes a month after an announced 55 percent reduction for this fiscal year. Many of the organizations were caught off guard by the drop in funding so late in the fiscal year.

“If you tell us, ‘You’re not getting the money we told you nine months ago you were going to get,’ we can’t even adjust to that," Donna M. Fernandes, president and chief executive of the Buffalo Zoo told the New York Times. "There’s nothing you can do so late in the game.”

The Buffalo Zoo has already frozen four staff positions and Fernandes has taken a 10 percent pay cut.

“With live animals, you can’t cut back on food, utilities, veterinary care,” she added. “There are such high fixed costs, there’s no getting around it. This is almost punitive for those with living collections.”

The state's zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums are already feeling the economic squeeze from a significant drop in endowment funds and corporate donations. The New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx has eliminated or not filled 49 open positions.

Some cultural executives told the New York Times the cuts suggest that the state fails to recognize their institutions’ economic contributions. The Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium draw 2.7 million annual visitors, employ 1,000 staff members and generate $300 million for New York’s economy every year, according to Steven E. Sanderson, the president and chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

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