‘I have been pushed to my absolute breaking level;’ Canadian zoos battle to outlive


Final week, Paul Goulet’s 10-year-old daughter quietly went to his spouse with fear about her father.

“It is like he is right here, however he is not likely right here,” she mentioned.

That almost broke Goulet, the proprietor of Little Ray’s Nature Centre, a zoo and animal rescue group with areas in Hamilton and Ottawa.

Often an everlasting optimist, Goulet mentioned the pandemic is killing his enterprise and carrying him down.

He is minimize prices the place he can, however the overwhelming majority of his prices are mounted — the snakes, sloths and tortoises nonetheless must eat.

Gross income is down 94 per cent, he mentioned, because of the pressured closures and capability limits through the pandemic, and he is taken out loans totaling greater than $900,000 to assist pay the payments.

“I have been pushed to my absolute breaking level,” Goulet mentioned.

Different zoos and aquariums throughout the nation say they’ve additionally reached their breaking factors.

Jim Facette, the manager director of Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, mentioned establishments throughout the nation are having a tough time.

“They’re hanging on, but it surely’s a battle,” Facette mentioned.

He mentioned a number of the services qualify for the federal wage subsidy program and have acquired assist, however others usually are not eligible, together with these which are owned by one other stage of presidency, just like the Toronto Zoo, which is owned by the Metropolis of Toronto.

“Our establishments are distinctive, you may’t simply shut the lights, lock the door and go away,” Facette mentioned.

“The No 1 factor they need although, I hear this on a regular basis, is that they wish to open.”

Cherry Brook Zoo in Saint John, N.B., shuttered its doorways final 12 months largely because of the pandemic and the uncertainty going ahead, Facette mentioned.

Zoos have a whole revenue-generating ecosystem that features internet hosting company occasions, weddings and the like, he mentioned. The Zoo de Granby in Quebec needed to cancel greater than 30 weddings final 12 months.

Facette has spent numerous his time lobbying varied governments through the pandemic to determine find out how to maintain zoos and aquariums afloat.

“We have to improve capability when they’re open, so we have requested in the event that they’d contemplate fast testing as a part of reopening methods,” he mentioned.

“We have not heard again.”

For Dolf DeJong, the CEO of the Toronto Zoo, the final 12 months has been a attempting one.

Final 12 months, when China imposed a lockdown in Wuhan, the place the novel coronavirus originated, DeJong mentioned the zoo started stockpiling meals for the animals.

They have been shut down for 2 months within the spring through the first lockdown, then have been capable of do drive-thru visits for a couple of month earlier than members have been allowed again in at a considerably decreased capability.

Then they moved to a pre-booked mannequin from July till they reverted to drive-thrus in late November. They closed their doorways once more on Dec. 26 when the province issued a stay-at-home order.

The zoo had about 600,000 visitors final 12 months, DeJong mentioned, a couple of third of these coming from the drive-thru. Each day visitors final summer time peaked at 5,000 – half of what they used to see the earlier summer time.

They have been capable of increase about $1 million via their non-profit arm for a program known as Zoo Meals For Life, which is about sufficient to cowl the price of meals for the power’s 5,000 animals.

January and February are traditionally down months for the zoo, DeJong mentioned.

“Being closed proper now does not harm as badly because it harm final 12 months being closed on the Friday of March Break,” DeJong mentioned.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll have the ability to host visitors on the brand new April break, that the climate will probably be nice, and we’ve Easter in there. We might prefer to suppose we will begin rallying from these early within the 12 months losses.”

For Goulet, he mentioned he has used each potential authorities program for assist, together with the wage and hire subsidy applications, which have kicked in about $240,000.

However he wants about $840,000 for Little Ray’s to outlive to the top of this 12 months.

The corporate’s greatest cash maker, he mentioned, are animal festivals that run from January to April.

“None of these are occurring,” he mentioned.

Provincial restrictions have eased considerably in Ottawa and Hamilton, so Little Ray’s is now allowed to have small teams inside. They’re additionally doing stay Zoom reveals now, however they solely herald about 5 per cent of the cash the stay reveals at faculties and birthday events used to.

“I am blissful we’re open, so as an alternative of shedding $80,000 a month, we’ll lose possibly $60,000,” Goulet mentioned. “It’ll curb our losses, however we’re nonetheless shedding cash at huge charges.”

He has turned to the general public for assist with a GoFundMe marketing campaign that has raised almost $200,000 from greater than 2,000 folks in simply over per week.

His supporters additionally organized a bottle drive the place they collected some 200,000 bottles.

“We’re slowly attempting to show the ash into one thing and that is solely as a result of we have had a ton of public assist,” Goulet mentioned.

This report by The Canadian Press was first printed Feb. 19, 2021.