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Get On The List. The exhibits have been one of the most obvious casualties of state and local funding cuts. As a result, many zoos are downsizing or closing exhibits to stay on budget. The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates both attractions, declined to comment.
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Zoos that depend less on public funding or have long-term projects in the works, however, are still opening new exhibits. In , the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium bought a nearby water park and golf course and added souvenir and food carts to the zoo.
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More commonly, zoos have added attractions that let them charge more without building massive new structures. That primarily includes tours that allow you to get closer to the animals -- skyrides over an exhibit, safari-style treks, feeding stations. Not all sick animals exhibit symptoms, which means they can transmit salmonella, E. The Centers for Disease Control has also reported more unusual illnesses, including tuberculosis and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureau, or MRSA, transmitted from elephants to zoo employees and giant anteaters infected with H1N1, or swine flu.
Zoos say they routinely test animals for pathogens, and don't allow visitors in contact with sick ones. Children five and under are most at risk, so limit their contact to a few pats, Blackmore advises.
It's not just the animals that are wild.
Zoos are always on the lookout for ways to limit costs and avoid ticket price hikes. One such creative measure: Feeding animals fresh road-kill. Other zoos have also become more resourceful. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, operated by the Ohio's parks district, gets fallen trees from the parks for its elephants, which eat the bark. The Dallas Zoo grows bamboo and cabbage as decoration and, later, food. The USDA's Sacks says it's common for inspectors to find freezers stacked with grocery store donations, like chickens and steak that have passed the sell-by date.
Road-kill and grocery store seconds all comply with USDA regulations, which only consider whether food is properly stored and prepared, and fit to eat -- not where it came from, says Sacks.
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In , year-old Timbo's cataracts were so bad that she was practically blind, with limited mobility as a result. Zoos frequently call in human medical experts -- like the ophthalmologist and orthopedic surgeons who operated on Timbo -- to work on their older animals, and many donate their time, say experts.
Even so, there are more costs cropping up for zoos as their populations age. Zoos say their conservation mission dictates that residents are there for life -- even if that life is twice as long as expectations in the wild -- and that euthanizing them is done only when the animal is in pain and there is no treatment.
The trend of mimicking an animal's natural environment has become so pervasive that it now dictates which and how many animals a zoo can afford. Many zoos lend and trade animals free of charge, so it's really the exhibits themselves that hinder selection.
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Zoos spend years collaborating with architects, designers and animal behavior experts to figure out how meet an animal's needs within the zoo's space and budget constraints, says Charles Mays, a principal with The Portico Group, a Seattle-based design firm specializing in zoo exhibits. Safety for employees, the public and other animals is a factor, too.
Projects are usually funded in stages, which can cause a zoo to abandon or revise a project partway through, says Mays. At the zoo's regular prices, it would cost the pair almost twice as much, but consumers don't need to be as avid a zoo-goer as Olivia to benefit from a membership.
Many memberships pay for themselves with two visits, says Gerner of Leisure Business Advisors, and some include extras like free rides and tours. Many are also tax-deductible, since you're contributing to a non-profit.