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Oakland Zoo fighting to save it from permanent closure

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OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — A gem of the San Francisco Bay Area is nearing its 100th-birthday, but whether the Oakland Zoo will make it past 98 is uncertain due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The zoo may have to close permanently if state and county officials do not give it a green light for reopening to visitors soon. The zoo has been closed since the COVID-19 outbreak began, and without visitors coming in, money is rapidly running out.

The Oakland Zoo’s president and CEO, Dr. Joel Parrott, told KRON4 that the zoo spends about $1 million every month and it only has $3 million left in its emergency reserves. Staff salaries are the zoo’s biggest expense, but even after laying off all part-time workers, the zoo can’t survive without revenue from visitors.

“All the responsibility right now is squarely on the Alameda County Public Health Department. We are on a time clock. The answer to the problem is to approve the zoo to open safely,” Parrott said.

On Tuesday the county health department sent a letter to the state asking for state officials to reclassify the Oakland Zoo as an “outdoor museum.”

The zoo sprawls across 100 acres in the hills rising above Oakland. Its outdoor setting and wide walkways would allow for proper social distancing for a limited number of visitors and new safety measures in place, Parrott said.

If the state approves the reclassified status, the zoo would be allowed to open immediately.

Oakland Zoo / KRON4 Photo

County health department spokesperson Neetu Balram told KRON4 Wednesday, “We have sent a letter to the state asking them to reclassify the zoo as an outdoor museum, which would allow it to open now. If the state doesn’t agree, the zoo has to wait until we have our variance attestation in place. We had planned to apply for attestation last week, but pulled it due to rapidly increasing cases and hospitalizations. We will pursue it again as disease conditions allow.”

While the zoo’s fate is in limbo, Parrott is encouraging people to donate to the zoo through its website, as well as contact the Alameda County Public Health Department encouraging it to allow the zoo’s reopening.

Parrott said the zoo is grateful for everyone who has already donated.

“We have members and visitors from all over. When you’ve been here (in Oakland) for that long, for that many people, it becomes a strong bond between the zoo and the community, and the community and the zoo,” he said.

As far as Alameda County’s reopening plans, county officials wrote in a June 29 press release, “Alameda County’s case rate per 100,000 people has increased from 63.2 to 71.1 over the past 7 days. Daily hospitalizations were decreasing through June 22nd, but since then we have seen a daily increase in hospitalizations. While Variance Attestation offers a path to greater alignment with the State’s pace for reopening, it requires counties to attest only when the data show that it is safe to do so. We are concerned by the increase in local cases, disproportionate impact on communities of color, local impact of the outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, and the alarming disease trends we see in counties that have opened at a faster rate. This week and next will be critical for assessing the impact of activities authorized to resume in Alameda County on June 19th, and we will continue to closely monitor our data to inform next steps regarding reopening and attestation. We recognize the multifaceted challenges presented by a slow reopening and are grateful for the sustained effort and sacrifices made by our residents and businesses.”

Empty Oakland Zoo / KRON4 photo
Empty Oakland Zoo / KRON4 Photo
Empty Oakland Zoo / KRON4 Photo

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