Local Zoo May be Forced to Sell Animals

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The Sierra Safari Zoo is rapidly running out of money and may be forced to sell animals if additional funds to feed them aren't raised this month, the Reno facility's co-founder said.

"It's a crisis every year," said Dale McDaniel, who helped start the zoo in 1989 and is on its board of directors.

"Every year the zoo grows. Every year, there are more mouths to feed, which makes it more of a crisis," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Despite the constant money trouble, the zoo never has been forced to sell animals.

But now the zoo, with a monthly budget of about $10,000, has enough cash to feed its population of about 200 animals for only about a week, McDaniel said.

"It's tougher because we have less resources going into the winter," he said.

McDaniel makes an annual appeal for donations to feed animals through the winter after the zoo, a nonprofit operation, finishes its season and closes to the public at the end of October.

But the zoo's financial trouble is worse this year, even though it stayed open for an extra weekend, through Nov. 2, McDaniel said, because summer attendance was down and costs have gone up.

"The zoo stays open only by the desire of the people," McDaniel said. "The zoo could close if the zoo isn't a priority."

Typically, the zoo has enough cash when it closes to feed animals through November and December, McDaniel said.

This year, there is only enough money for this month, he said. "That's why its urgent," McDaniel said. "It's a matter of days this time."

Zoo expenses must be covered without income from November to the beginning of April, when the facility opens for visitors.

In previous years, McDaniel had enough cash on hand to last until January, with donations covering the rest of the winter.

This year, more donations are needed, McDaniel said. He got some good news this week when Western Nevada Supply, a Sparks-based plumbing contractor gave $2,500 and challenged other businesses to match it.

Without additional money, decisions will have to be made about how many and which animals to sell, McDaniel said.

"If you cant provide for the animals, you have to decrease the animals," he said.

This year, admissions revenue dropped 11.5 percent, to $57,418 from $64,841 last year. At the same time, the cost of insurance for the zoo jumped to $16,000 from $12,700.

Summer heat kept attendance down, McDaniel said.

"We had the hottest summer on record," he said. "People don't go outdoors for activities as much."

The zoo budget lost money from other sources, including donations and grants, McDaniel said.

The zoo received no grant funding this year, compared with $60,000 in 2002. Donations dropped from $30,700 to $7,595.

"It's a heartbreaker for us to realize we may have to sell some of our animals," said Jimmie Martin, who founded the zoo with McDaniel.