It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope… Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Dear Minnesota Zoo Members and Guests,
One hundred and sixty one years ago, Charles Dickens penned this quote. It’s nearly impossible to believe that his words echo the sentiment I feel writing to you today. It has been 8 weeks since we closed the Minnesota Zoo due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. These are incredibly difficult days and we are grateful to our Zoo and Foundation colleagues and to you for all your support.
I began the new decade excited about the future of the Minnesota Zoo; and I remain committed to it despite the challenges before us. We could never have planned for a global crisis of this magnitude and yet we have thoughtfully adapted our plans and our resources to sustain the Zoo. This work requires perseverance, patience, passion and commitment. It has tested me—it has tested us all.
On March 14, the day we closed the Zoo, the entire team rallied around a comprehensive strategy: keep the staff safe; the animals well cared for; our resources carefully managed and reprioritized; and our publics engaged. In the days and weeks ahead, a quieter, new normal dawned on Zoo grounds. We continued to evolve our strategy and our team rose to the occasion.
Our commitment to our animals, to our staff and to you—our valued friends and loyal supporters—will not waiver. Our mission matters now more than ever.
Our education team is meeting teachers, students and families where they are today—in new and often unfamiliar roles—to provide accessible programs throughout the State. We are supporting families at home—with learning resources to engage and inspire passion, creativity and caring for the natural world.
As spring arrives in Minnesota, new babies are being born at the Zoo and our beloved Farm Babies has gone virtual so that we can share these beautiful creatures with friends, young and old, inspiring smiles, laughter and learning. Our global conservation work continues focused here at home on butterflies, bison and Blanding’s turtles. We are a pathway to hope for Minnesotans.
And, so today, I remain optimistic that the future is bright. But I also know that the road is long; and there are many obstacles in our way. As the days pass without significant revenues coming in, our decision making, expense cutting and project disruption have necessitated forging deeper into the organization.
As we move to an entirely virtual experience for now, this week more than 125 positions were impacted by staff reductions. This includes temporary and seasonal staff who work with us on an intermittent basis, redeploying staff across the Zoo and to other state agencies, not filling vacancies and reducing Zoo staff by 48 people and Foundation staff by four people. This is a challenging step as we reassess our current priorities and work to save the Zoo. The days ahead will bring more changes while we continue to focus our resources providing exceptional care to animals, maintaining the grounds and ongoing facility maintenance.
We are grateful to our wonderful staff for their service to the Zoo and hope you will join us in giving thanks for their dedication and care of the animals, nature and our valued guests. For me, as leader of this organization, a former zookeeper and a passionate supporter of nature, having to say goodbye to our dedicated staff is indeed the hardest of times.
I also know that the Zoo must survive in order to serve Minnesotans for generations to come. Our future beckons and our Zoo will reopen in a new way in the months ahead. In fact, due to our outdoor campus and open spaces, we may be one of the first cultural organizations to be able to do so across the state as a socially-distanced experience with significantly reduced capacity and timed ticketing to provide for a safe and comfortable guest experience. I look forward to that day–returning to a campus buzzing with guests; animals playing to the delight of children; staff working together across the Zoo; and family groups enjoying another beautiful day at the Minnesota Zoo.
Until then, thank you for your unwavering support and commitment to the Minnesota Zoo.
With sincere gratitude,
Zoo Director & Zoo Foundation President