How To Save America's Zoos: Privatize Them

In nature, rare and endangered animals fight for their lives against poachers and predators. In publicly owned zoos, they face different but no-less lethal dangers: politics and budget woes. That problem will only get worse as local governments come to terms with decades of out-of-control spending and declining tax revenues.

For six years straight, notes Leonard Gilroy, the Reason Foundation's director of government reform, cities have seen declines in overall revenues - and that situation isn't expected improve dramatically anytime soon. In such an environment, says Gilroy, city governments rightly focus on core activities such as law enforcement and infrastructure. Given that public zoos on average get 40 percent of their budgets from taxes, shrinking public dollars means reducing operating hours, deferring maintenance, raising ticket prices, cutting education programs, and laying off workers.

The best solution? Privatize the zoos by turning over most or all of their operations to nonprofits and other groups that generally have more interest, resources, and expertise in caring for animals and drawing crowds. Tulsa, Oklahoma provides a case worth looking at. Between 2007 and 2009 the operating budget of the Tulsa Zoo had been cut by almost 50%. During a budget crisis in 2009, newly elected Mayor Dewey Bartlett faced a zoo with declining attendance and ticket sales; it was also about to lose its accreditation. One option would have been to simply close the zoo and sell off the animals. Bartlett decided instead to draw down the city's subsidy of the zoo's annual budget to a management fee and turn over its operation to a nonprofit that would be responsible for all aspects of the zoo.

The shift has allowed the nonprofit Tulsa Zoo Management to raise more money, make overdue improvements to exhibits, and focus on providing a better experience not just for the animals but the increasing number of human visitors walking through the entrance gate. Despite the rotten economy, attendance is up 14 percent from last year alone, says Tulsa Zoo Management CEO Terrie Correll.

As city-owned or operated zoos in every city from Los Angeles to New York struggle to keep their doors open, they would do well to look at the way that Tulsa has managed to craft a solution that's better for taxpayers, zoo visitors, and even the animals themselves.

About 5 minutes.

Produced by Sharif Matar.

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  • sarcasmic||

    Q: What does Siegfried and the tiger have in common?

    A: They both know what Roy tastes like.

  • yonemoto||

    the san diego zoo is pretty good, too. It's expensive as fuck, but your admissions dollars go into research.

  • Bill||

    I guess a private zoo would be better than a public one that was being poorly managed. But my wife has worked for a private zoo for 15 years and they are in the red about 2 years of every 4. As soon as they get in the black they waste the money in some stupid ass scheme and then are back in the red. The board allows the CEO of the zoo to be one of the highest paid zoo CEO's in the country and NOT in a big city. This goofball comes to work a few days a month and gets paid a lot. I am always shocked when I hear the stories of the latest things they are up to. Sadly, they are shielded from free market competition for several reasons. 1. They are a non-profit and get tax breaks and perks for that 2. Everyone loves animals, so if they hear they are in trouble, instead of letting the upper management get their just rewards, they donate money and 3. In a smaller city there is less competition available. Maybe one day they will go so far that they alienate their customers but it has not happened yet.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • ||

    One hasn't lived until one has seen giraffes engage in watersports in person. Thank you San Diego Zoo!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Even my fairly limited observation of animals has convinced me that only humans have any sort of sexual taboos whatsoever.

  • ||

    Have you ever trapped anyone in a "It's not natural"/"Only animals do such dirty things" argument loop? It's almost as fun as watching a giraffe work an iron pole with their prehensile tongue.

  • ||

    To be fair- you don't know what they don't do and for what reason they don't do it.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    To be fair- you don't know what they don't do and for what reason they don't do it.

    While you have a point that we cannot know the inner mental lives of animals, Youtube has shown me a chimpanzee mouth-raping the corpse of a frog. If that chimp gained human-like sentience, I don't think it would be fazed by much.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You think it might start posting at H&R?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • Way Of The Crane||

    Youtube has shown me a chimpanzee mouth-raping the corpse of a frog

    Really, if there were ever a time to post a link in your comment, that was it.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    You get two links, Crane:

    One

    Two

  • ||

    My point was that dead frog mouth raping might be an acceptable behavior- but monogamy might be taboo. Or pedochimpophelia.

  • A Secret Band of Robbers||

    But privatized zoos would only sell the animals to rich gourmands who need a loophole in the ESA in order to eat every species on the planet!!! They're driven by GREED!!!!11!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    rich gourmands who need a loophole in the ESA in order to eat every species on the planet!!!

    aka The Chinese

  • A Secret Band of Robbers||

    Because this is apparently a huge area of concern.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Dammit! If I can't eat lion, how can I consume their essence to gain their strength and agility?

  • ||

    maybe we can grow tiger dong cells in a lab and dry them, powder them, and package them there for asian men needing a rocket in their pocket.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    maybe we can grow tiger dong cells in a lab

    That's probably what will be; however, I have a feeling they'll come up with some bullshit about it not being "natural" and not possessing the proper Qi or some such thing.

  • phandaal||

    This is completely accurate. The Wild China documentary was basically a long list of the animals that the Chinese consume in staggering amounts. Spoiler alert: it's every animal.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "Who ordered the endangered species kabob?"

  • Zeb||

    THe funny thing about that attitude is that if anything saves large mammal species from extinction, it will probably be rich people who want to shoot them. People will pay a lot for a big game hunt, and that potential profit is a much better incentive to keep a healthy population going than any attempt at banning hunting or creating parks.

  • ||

    Traditional environmentalists will have a conniption fit over this, and I predict they will never accept its benefits.

  • $park¥||

    How about let's leave the animals where they live and if people are so hard-up to see them then they go there?

  • RBS||

    This. I understand the educational value of zoos and all that but there is something incredibly depressing about watching a tiger pace back and forth in an area smaller than my apartment.

  • sarcasmic||

    What's the best way to preserve an endangered species? Put it on the menu. I doubt chickens are going extinct any time soon.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    What's the best way to preserve an endangered species? Put it on the menu.

    Sea turtles, bluefin tuna, "bushmeat" (chimps and gorillas), and sharks would beg to differ.

  • ||

    I'm sure he meant domesticated endangered species.

    You know, like chickens.

  • sarcasmic||

    Well, there are exceptions. Not every species reproduces in captivity.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    If I could figure a way to domesticate bluefins, I'd fucking own Japan.

  • ||

    Sea turtles, bluefin tuna, "bushmeat" (chimps and gorillas), and sharks would beg to differ.

    AKA Tragedy of the Commons.

  • ||

    According to an old Reason article, sea turtles' numbers began to decline even more when they were taken OFF the menu, because pens full of captive-grown turtles were outlawed. Each sea turtle egg has a 1/100 chance of making it to adulthood, due to predation, but in captivity, most of the hundreds laid in each clutch were grown to a marketable size.

  • ||

    I'd say make it a fashionable pet. Owl populations got a boost after Harry Potter, although I think people just started randomly releasing them into the wild afterward with no regard for their natural habitat.

    And there's the problem with snakes in FL and alligators in NY

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Pro L has the snake thing beat - they are his supply for tasty python on a stick, etc.

  • Almanian!||

    Damn you and your nimble fingers and faster refresh rate!

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Muhuhuhwaha!

  • Almanian!||

    I think ProL has the snakes-in-motherfuckin'-Florida thing covered.

    Sweet, sweet Python Jerky.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Python: The other other white meat.

    Now introducing python haggis!

  • Aresen||

    I'd pay to watch a tiger eat Newt Gingrich.

    On second thought, that might be cruel to the tiger.

  • Almanian!||

    Let's name the tiger Newcular Titties, and THEN watch him eat Newt Gangrene. That'd be a thing.

  • ||

    Fort Worth has a great zoo that's run privately. Before privatization it sucked.

    Now it's got all major primates represented (no humans in cages though...)

  • Aresen||

    Didn't a zoo in London do that once?

  • ||

    Your thinking Germany. Of course, they didn't really count the Jews as humans.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You're thinking of Buckingham Palace

  • Aresen||

    No, that's the World's Longest Running Soap Opera.

  • ||

    Several World's Fairs had "ethnological expositions"

    Wikipedia: Human Zoo

  • sarcasmic||

    All I remember about the primate cage at the Denver zoo was a bunch of monkeys that masturbated so much their penises bled. That was over twenty years ago.

  • RBS||

    Our local zoo has a chimp that smokes and watches tv, close enough?

  • Bardas Phocas||

    Of course the animals may turn on us.
    KILLER COMMANDO DOLPHINS from Ukraine - on the loose and hunting your wimens.
    http://seattle.cbslocal.com/20.....the-loose/

  • Pro Libertate||

    We should privatize the White House while we're privatizing things.

  • lap83||

    You know who else loved animals?

  • ||

    Andrew Mendoza?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Mr. Hands?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Marlin Perkins?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Or was it Jim Fowler?

  • Almanian!||

    We used to laugh at how "Jim" always had to go actually wrestle the alligator/boa/baboon/whale/elephant/snail while "Marlin" would stand back, watching, and kind of move back and forth looking all concerned.

    What a great fucking show. That, along with "The American Sportsman" with Curt Gowdy hunting all kinda animals all over the place with all kinda sports stars satiated my need for Wild Animal as a yute.

  • Almanian!||

    Johnny Carson?

  • ||

    That lady who kept having her way with her dog even when the police showed up and glared judgingly?

  • ||

    Why should we save the zoos? I propose pure darwinism: if the animals can't out-compete humanity, then let them go extinct. All of them.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Let go extinct? No, I say! We must eat them out of existence!

    /exotic deli entrepreneur

  • RBS||

    Well, if they are going extinct anyway...

  • ||

    I'm all for that until the dolphins grow legs!

  • Zeb||

    "We" shouldn't. That's why you privatize them.

    Here's a q1uestion. If all animals go extinct, does that make it OK to eat stupid people and small children?

  • phandaal||

    If you can catch them,. They're really quite tender.

  • Enough About Palin||

    Why not have the Federal Wildlife Agency take them over. The cost will drop to zero after a year or two.

  • Dan||

    Zoos are nothing but a money pit in northern states anyway. They have to maintain all of the facilities and care for the animals and pay all the staff that do those things year round. But they are only actually open for 3-5 months out of the year depending on specific location.

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