Are Zoos Profitable?

June 21, 2013 admin Animals

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As with any industry, there are profitable and unprofitable zoos.  Most visitors to their local zoo are more concerned with the condition of the animals and the variety offered to keep their children engaged and excited. They don’t stop to ask if the zoo is turning a profit or whether it is on the verge of financial collapse.  Despite the success of movies showing families taking over a zoo, the reality is that most zoos are run either by local municipalities or by private, non-profit organizations.

For a zoo to be profitable, it must be run like a business. It must bring in more money than it spends and it must constantly improve its offerings to encourage repeat as well as new visitors.  Here are some of the ways that zoos make themselves profitable.

Business over Bureaucracy

Zoos that are run by city government or even by an inept organization, tend to get bogged down by bureaucracy.  One famous example was the Pittsburg Zoo which in the late 1990s reportedly required 38 individual employees to approve and purchase bananas.  While the request was going thru channels, the animals could have starved. Streamlined structures and processes are the key to reducing overhead and operating costs.  Given that acquiring, housing, feeding, and caring for exotic animals is an expensive endeavor, eliminating unnecessary costs is vital.

In addition to reducing costs, eliminating bureaucracy allows zoos to adapt, grow, and react to problems more effectively.  Sooner or later, every business encounters a crisis or even just a rough patch. If the zoo’s charter requires endless meetings and committees and debating before action can be taken, the problem is likely to get worse and worse. Likewise, when an opportunity arises that would help the zoo grow, management needs to be able to act on that opportunity rather than go through layers and layers of approval that may result in the opportunity being missed altogether.

Expand or Die

A successful zoo is going to be looking for ways to grow and expand.  New animals, new habitats, new programs are all part of keeping a zoo fresh and inviting to visitors as well as providing a safe and healthy environment for the animals.  A zoo that stay stuck in the 20th century will find itself with dwindling attendance, sick and aging animals, and a downward cycle that is nearly impossible to escape.

Profitable zoos are constantly exploring ways to expand. Species conservation, breeding programs, new habitats, new exhibits, special events, etc. are key to keeping the local community involved and in attracting not just tourists, but employees.  Veterinarians and zoologists who specialize in zoo animals are a rarity.  Attracting the top of the field should be the goal of any zoo.  Better habitats and programs attract higher caliber employees which creates an upward cycle that attracts visitors and increases revenues.

Profitable zoos are run like profitable businesses, just with slightly more exotic “attractions.” It’s that simple.

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