Zoos and aquariums ask Congress for COVID relief

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 1:24 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Zoos and aquariums are a lifeline to so many endangered species. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums says the facilities lost millions of dollars because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now they are asking Congress to step up and help them.

A quick look at this small toad and you may not realize he is an endangered species.

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium cares for the Wyoming toad.
The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium cares for the Wyoming toad.(River Museum)

Zoos and aquariums are working nonstop to protect the Wyoming toad, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa is one of them.

“We literally bred them and released them in the middle of a pandemic,” said Mark Beshel, Assistant Curation of Living Collections at the River Museum. “It’s an undertaking.”

Beshel and his colleagues work around the clock on conservation programs to care for endangered species. The work is time-consuming and expensive. But now, they are faced with another challenge—COVID-19 and furloughs.

“We make sure when we get any kind of scheduling when we’re short staffed, that there is enough coverage for every area,” said Beshel.

The Dubuque attraction did get some COVID relief funds, but officials said that money is now gone. The facility is not the only one struggling to maintain operations, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

“Even when they’re closed, they still have to function at 100 percent because the facility is the home for animals that live there. They can’t just turn off the lights, shut the doors,” said Dan Ashe, the Association President.

Ashe is asking Congress for 30 million dollars to help A-Z-A-accredited locations care for protected species and federally-owned animals. He estimates they will need about $5 million per month for six months to keep the programs running.

“Well, it’s not going to be easy,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.).

Lipinski, Zoo and Aquarium Caucus Co-Chair, said he supports the request and he is talking with Capitol Hill leaders about the educational value the zoos and aquariums provide.

“These are not simply amusement parks,” said Lipinski.

Lipinski acknowledges it’s going to be a challenge to get direct funding. He said the Paycheck Protection Program may be the most realistic option if extended.

Negotiations for the next relief bill are ongoing.

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