PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Like many businesses, zoos have not been exempt from challenges throughout the pandemic.

Locally, zoos are trying to overcome small crowds and financial deficits, all while racing against the clock as colder weather approaches.

Amanda Salle, Operations Manager at Living Treasures Animal Park, which has locations in Lawrence County and in the Laurel Highlands, says they lost a large portion of their annual revenue related to group visits.

Schools will typically book field trips in April and May, but this year, the zoo was closed during that time under Governor Tom Wolf’s restrictions.

“We were unable to open until May 29 this year,” Salle said. “We had to wait until we were in the green (phase).”

It made for a rocky start to their season, which only lasts from April until November.

Salle says the difficulties resulted in staff furloughs, some of which they have been able to bring back.

“Those two months we missed out on, that’s a really big gap,” she said.

Salle adds business seems to be bouncing back with the warmer weather.

At the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium though, the impact appears to be much greater.

“We’re running about a $5 million deficit in our budget right now,” said Dr. Barbara Baker, President, and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

She says the zoo is seeing about a quarter of its normal attendance for this time of year.

The decreasing attendance has forced the zoo to cut costs wherever possible, while making sure care for the 8,000 animals doesn’t suffer.

“We need to continue to provide the optimal care that we always have for these wonderful animals here,” Baker said.

In April, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium furloughed 43 workers.

Though some have come back, Baker says there’s a chance of more furloughs coming this fall unless the zoo and aquarium receive emergency funding.

“We’re not in danger of closing, but we are looking at the possibility that we’re going to have to furlough additional staff in September,” she said.

Shelby Cassesse