Zoos and the animals who live in them are in serious trouble thanks to the pandemic, as you might have already surmised. But an even darker twist is that unless things turn around soon, zookeepers may have to start euthanizing the animals, or worse, feeding them to each other.
The main problem is that running a zoo costs a fortune, and revenue has, of course, slowed to zero. “The amount of losses through the whole zoological community is staggering,” Steven Monfort, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, told the New Yorker. “Most of us are trying to figure out how to get to the spring of 2021 and hope that there’s a vaccine or something so that visitation by then will be more normal.”
While no zoo is thriving in these circumstances, a zoo in northern Germany has voiced the darkest possible outcome for its animals:
“If—and this is really the worst, worst case of all—if I no longer have any money to buy feed, or if it should happen that my feed supplier is no longer able to supply due to new restrictions, then I would slaughter animals to feed other animals,” Verena Kaspari told the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur last month. The zoo made a list of which animals it would euthanize first, she said. The zoo is noted for its panda twins, penguins, and seals. The last to go, Kaspari said, would be Vitus, a snowy polar bear that stands twelve feet tall.
The New Yorker report goes on to detail the many trials that zoos around the world are facing, from a Canadian zoo sending its pandas back to China after being unable to import enough bamboo to feed them, to the expense of paying the horticulturalist at the Oregon Zoo to raise the plants that feed twelve hundred silverspot caterpillars. (There’s also the person who responsible for keeping the caterpillars “clean, watered and fed” until they turn into butterflies and can be released.)
Then there’s the zoos that manage research programs, said Dane Ashe, the president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, who points out that “this dormant period is going to have a real impact on conservation in the field for animals.”
The only good news is that sheer boredom has prompted a pair of pandas at the Ocean Park Zoo to have sex for the first time after a decade in the same enclosure. So at least there’s that.