Zoos hungry for a budget break

By Lindsay Cohen
Posted by Rachel Leigh

JUPITER, FL (WFLX) - It is meal time in a Jupiter kitchen, and workers are furiously prepping nutritious salads: The lettuce is laid out, the vegetables chopped, and the bananas sliced into perfect, quarter-shaped medallions.

Then come the 'croutons': frozen crickets, scooped out by the handful, scattered onto the waiting spread.

This meal, like many others prepared for animals at the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, has gone up in price tremendously over the past 12 months. Like the average American family, Busch and other zoos are facing increased food costs: anywhere from 10 to 40 percent in some cases.

"It has a rippling effect," says executive director David Hitzig. "As everybody else feels these similar pressures in their every day lives, we notice a reduction in contributions that come into Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. We're being faced with reduced income and increased expenses, and that is getting tricky for us."

The trick, Hitzig says, is balancing an annual grocery bill of more than $100,000 for nearly 400 animals. With the cost of dry food up nearly 42 percent this year over last, workers are being asked to pay better attention to animals' weight while not wasting food.

"We don't want to compromise on what we're giving the animals as far as food as concerned," Hitzig said. "We have increased fuel charges and things like that, so it really, across the board, is having a big effect for us."

Zoos across the country are having to digest similar budget crunches, including the Palm Beach Zoo, said Keith Lovett, director of living collections. The zoo has noticed increased costs, he said, especially when it comes to feeding bigger animals, like their tigers.

"How are we going to deal with that in the long term? That's anybody's guess," says Hitzig, whose sanctuary relies on private contributions. To make matters worse, charities nationwide have been suffering from low donations, due to economic woes.

Still, Hitzig remains hopeful, and says the panthers, possums and parrots will continue to eat well.

"It's a tough scenario," he said. "We take a look at it and try to find out what is going to be the best answer."