Faced with a growing budget deficit and rising healthcare and pension costs, the City of Los Angeles is considering transferring management of its zoo to a private nonprofit organization, Bloomberg News reports.
After spending nearly $15 million in taxpayer dollars to subsidize the zoo in 2011, the city is negotiating with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, which currently handles concessions and organizes volunteers at the zoo, to assume responsibility for the zoo's operations, including a program to reintroduce endangered condors into the wild. The city would continue to own the zoo's land, enclosures, and eleven hundred animals.
"The dollars we're paying to feed an elephant are competing with the dollars we're paying a police officer," Miguel Santana, the city's administrative officer, told Bloomberg News. "We don't have one silver bullet to resolve our fiscal situation. It's going to take multiple solutions."
Across the country, local governments struggling to balance budgets are cutting what they consider to be non-essential services such as libraries and zoos. According to Bloomberg News, municipalities cut payrolls in May to the lowest level since 2005.
While Dallas, Milwaukee, and other cities have already transferred zoo operations to private operators, there are concerns that the proposed transfer in Los Angeles may result in reduced salaries and benefits for zoo employees, diminish the zoo's focus on conservation and animal rehabilitation, and lead to higher admission fees. "My main concern is that it would become more like an amusement park," said Laura Goldman, an animal rights activist who circulated an online petition opposing the transfer. "It would be more about entertainment than learning."