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Memphis Zoo revenue is declining fast due to COVID-19; support needed

The Memphis Zoo predicts to lose upwards of half of its yearly revenue, around $9 million, if the closures continue.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For a month and half, no guests have been allowed inside the Memphis Zoo, which has taken a huge bite out of revenue as high operational costs continue to accrue.

The situation doesn't look good currently for the Memphis Zoo which would normally be enjoying it's busiest time of the year. Zoo leaders say the months between March and June are its busiest and are responsible for the bulk of its yearly $18 million revenue.

Right now, little to no revenue is coming in.

"With the closing in March and possibly, we really don't know when we open back up but until we get that date to open back up, this is a bulk of our revenue for the entire year for the Memphis Zoo," Memphis Zoo Chief Marketing Officer Nick Harmeier said.

The zoo may be closed to guests, but work hasn't stopped. Nearly 100 full-time employees are still caring for and feeding the 4,500 animals inside the zoo but part-time/seasonal employees were laid off. Harmeier said day-to-day operations costs the zoo $50,000 per day. Of that, $16,000 of it alone is the costs to feed the animals each day.

"It's pretty much day-to-day operations as normal. Internally, the animals are still being taken care of every single day just as if we were open a couple months ago," Harmeier said.

To make up for a small portion of its losses, the zoo has created an Emergency Animal Response fund for people to donate to. It's raised nearly $100,000, a small slice of it's projected $9 million in losses.

Currently, the zoo hasn't been accounted for in the reopening plan by the city of Memphis, it's owner. Harmeier said they hope to have a clearer picture of when they may begin to reopen soon.

"There is just so much uncertainty," Harmeier said. "We don't know when we're going to open back up. We don't know at what capacity. We know that the capacity that when we do get to open back up will be at a much lesser capacity than we normally would have here in our busy season."

Recently, the zoo submitted a plan to the city with the plans it's willing to make when the day comes for it to reopen. Harmeier said that proposal includes operating at 30% capacity when it first opens and keeping indoor facilities closed. He said the zoo would also encourage ticket sales to be online to limit interactions.

"The key for us is to really obey the CDC guidelines and make sure that everyone is flowing through the zoo at a good pace and at no point is there gathering crowds throughout the zoo," Harmeier said.

Even if the zoo were to open within the next month or so, the limited capacity will continue to be a financial hit for the zoo, Harmeier said.

The zoo is also encouraging membership sales during the closure and it's honorary "adopting an animal" program as a means to bring in revenue. Click here to adopt an animal.

"We are something we are very proud of and we're asking for support if you can support it,' Harmeier said. "We've always asked for people to be members, and we continue to be good stewards of the community."

No time will be taken away from current and new zoo memberships which have been frozen during the closure.

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