San Diego Zoo Global

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San Diego Zoo Global

Like other public spaces, the San Diego Zoo has closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. While its financial health was strong prior to the pandemic, the organization has noted that the combination of loss of revenue and continued operating costs makes it difficult to predict the overall impact of the closure. Prior to the pandemic, the zoo's financial health consistent growth was indicated both by yearly increases in total revenue, and by ongoing growth in new and renovated exhibits.

2017 Africa Rocks Exhibit

  • The San Diego Zoo celebrated its centennial in 2016, and commemorated the event by opening the new 8-acre exhibit 'Africa Rocks' in the summer of 2017. The exhibit was touted as the Zoo's most ambitious exhibit, as of 2017.
  • The Africa Rocks exhibit incorporates the most up-to-date thinking on the role of zoos in conservation, and includes naturalistic habitats — so much so, that the gathering of the exhibit's plants took more than 5 years. This approach marks a significant departure from the entertainment-focused exhibits built earlier in the zoo's history.
  • Hard data on the success of the exhibit were not available in zoo's annual report or in third-party reports, but the exhibit was well-advertised, and officials expect it to be a key success of the zoo.
  • Our research did not generate any media mentions of other special exhibits launched within the past 5 years. A new cougar exhibit was launched in 2014, but this event did not attract any local media attention; for this reason, we assume that this was unlikely to be considered a 'special' exhibit like Africa Rocks and the Children's Zoo.

Children's Zoo

  • In 2018, the zoo announced a new exhibit planned for 2021: a Children's Zoo. This new exhibit will replace the old mini-zoo, which previously housed a petting zoo. Like the Africa Rocks exhibit, the focus of the attractions in the new Children's Zoo will be on conservation, and on engaging children with various 'climates,' rather than entertainment/viewing attractions.
  • The Children's Zoo was made possible by a 'record gift' of $30 million by one of the zoo's top benefactors. The San Diego Union Tribune reported that, in addition to the upcoming Children's Zoo, the zoo also expected to enlarge both its hummingbird and Komodo dragon habitats, with a combined cost of $9 million.
  • Although the success of the Children's Zoo is as-yet unknown, the amount of money spent on the exhibit (in tandem with other, nearby exhibit enlargements) suggests that the zoo expects the new exhibits to be successful. The main benefit of the Children's Zoo is also the cornerstone of its design process: allowing urban children to interact with nature in ways that they otherwise would not normally.

Coronavirus Financial Impact

  • The San Diego Zoo is currently closed to the public, per COVID-19 security measures. However, the zoo's operational expenses continue. This situation could create a strain on the zoo's resources, although the zoo's official statement is that it is unable to predict the eventual impact of the pandemic shutdown. It is possible that the financial health of the organization may suffer significantly due to the shutdown.
  • As of April 2020, the zoo had $842,000 in total assets; $179,000 of that is in cash or cash equivalents.

Coronavirus Wildlife Impact

  • During the pandemic closure, the zoo has reported a 50% increase in mountain lion sightings on the zoo's property. This increased wildlife activity is similar to other wildlife re-emergence in urban and remote areas around the globe. The zoo notes that the mountain lions have killed several of the zoos 'prey' animals.
  • Due to the threat to vulnerable species, the zoo has had to undertake measures to deter mountain lions from its property. In addition, it has also had to relocate certain species within the zoo. The cost of these measures, which include sensor technology and additional infrastructure, is not known; however, it comes at a time when the zoo is already experiencing a negative financial situation.

Consistent Financial Growth

  • In the past three years, the zoo has seen consistent revenue growth, from $299,000 in 2017 to 422,000 in 2019. (2018's revenue was 342,000).
  • The zoo has also received significant large gifts in the past few years, primarily for the Africa Rocks and Children's Zoo exhibits. These gifts demonstrate donor confidence in the zoo's financial and operational health.

Recent Enlargement & Renovations

  • Research indicates that the zoo had no major or special exhibits open in the past five years, other than the Africa Rocks exhibit. Given this, the slating of two ambitious, high-dollar exhibits concurrent with other significant enlargements (specifically the hummingbird and Komodo dragon exhibits) indicates a strong financial position in recent years, relative both to the organization's revenue and its donor funding.

Future Financial Predictions

  • The eventual impact of the coronavirus pandemic closure is still unknown. However, 2019's annual report indicates that the organization has money invested in stocks and mutual funds exceeding its cash on hand ($211,000 invested versus $179,000 cash on hand).
  • The zoo's yearly expenses in 2019 equaled $314,000. While not astronomical, it is reasonable to assume that a closure of 4-5 months could wipe out most of the zoo's existing liquid assets. In this scenario, the zoo might have to rely heavily on donor fundraising to maintain operations, continue its conservation efforts, or open planned exhibits on time.
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