John Ball Zoo provides community update amid COVID-19 pandemic

The current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted John Ball Zoo’s ability to open for the season, welcome guests, and serve as an impactful experience for the community.

While the Zoo continues to use digital tools to reach and educate its followers, being closed is hitting one of the oldest non-profits in Grand Rapids hard.

“We still have mouths, snouts, beaks, and jaws to feed and care for,” said John Ball Zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo. “Our animal care team, veterinarians, and essential facilities crew all remain on grounds to maintain the excellent care that we provide each and every day of the year, while practicing social distancing to keep one another healthy.”

The Zoo started preparing for possible supply chain issues several weeks ago and thanks to that planning has food and medicine for the animals and has identified alternate resources. However, as one might imagine, feeding the mouths of nearly 2,000 animals is expensive.

Without revenue from admissions, events, experiences, sponsorships, donations, education programs, along with food and retail sales, the Zoo will lose about $1,000,000 each month that it remains closed. As a result, it has been forced to pause on specific seasonal hiring and facility improvement projects, as well as to cancel some of its camps and other educational programs.

“The John Ball Zoo family of employees and the broader community is at the center of what we do, and limiting the opportunities  available to them is the last thing we want to do,” said D’Arienzo. “People love the Zoo and we will welcome them back to help us rebuild when we are able to do so.”

Volunteers had already been asked to stay home, for the safety of all, leaving a void that is now being filled by full-time employees who are able to pitch in and perform more than their usual duties. Without volunteer divers, for example, members of the animal teams who happen to be certified divers are cleaning the kelp tank.

Reducing contact with support staff in order to protect essential animal care specialists also increases the workload. “Many of the jobs here at the Zoo are so specialized that only a small group of individuals are able to do them,” said D’Arienzo. “There are very few people who know how to care for an Amur tiger or red panda.”

“Everyone is pitching in. None of us have experienced a time like this. We will get through this just as we always do during tough times; by working together to take care of each other,” said D’Arienzo.

The Zoo team has been working diligently to remain connected to the community. The response to the Zoo Insider video series that features different Zoo animals, keepers, and education team members launched last week has been remarkable, generating a reach of nearly 160,000. People who appreciate the content have even donated to support the Zoo.

“We are being creative to remain engaged with our community and trying to generate new sources of revenue,” said D’Arienzo. “The fact is, however, that we have a need for resources to continue providing excellent care to our animals and to maintain our facilities, so that when this crisis has passed, we can get back to business. This community has always supported the Zoo, and that support is more critical than ever.”

The Zoo is encouraging its member household families and more than 100,000 social media followers to renew their membership or purchase one as a gift for a friend or family member as a way to help bridge the gap.

Other ways to help include donating directly to the Zoo’s Annual Operating Fund, adopting an animal and making plans to visit when the Zoo reopens.

The John Ball Zoo is an economic engine, a driver of tourism, and continually a source of pride through its impact and acclaim. The Zoo welcomes about 520,000 visitors each year and provides more than a $40 million direct economic impact.

In addition the Zoo collaborates with leading research centers, delivers first-class educational opportunities in partnership with hundreds of school districts and tens of thousands of students, both on campus, in schools, and online.

Traditionally, March and April are important months of the year for Zoo membership sales thanks to Spring Breaks and warmer weather that coincides with the re-opening of the Zoo and relies on these two months as important sources of revenue.

“You can feel good knowing that your financial support helps provide the support the Zoo is counting on during this closure, after we are back open to the public, and to maintain our standing as one of the top cultural destinations in the State of Michigan,” concluded D’Arienzo.

About John Ball Zoo
John Ball Zoo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation founded in 1891 and located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Guided by the four core values of Conservation, Education, Community and Celebrate, John Ball Zoo accomplishes the mission to inspire our community to be actively engaged in the conservation of wildlife and our natural environment.