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Omaha Zoo estimates loss of $25 million due to COVID closure

Posted at 10:09 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 23:09:34-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — In a normal year, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is open 364 days a year, taking a break only on Christmas Day. But because of the pandemic, the zoo was forced to close its doors from March 16 until June 1.

For two and a half months, ticket sales came to a total standstill and the zoo’s budget took quite the hit.

“We took a significant hit as far as revenue is concerned," said Dennis Schnurbusch, Chief Operating Officer. "At one point we were thinking we were going to be short about $29 million to our expected budget.”

Since reopening in June, the zoo has seen a gradual increase in guests returning, working back up to 90% attendance and bringing in a bit of money.

“I anticipate now it's going to be closer to that $25 million mark, could be a little worse than that," Schnurbusch said. "But we’re still working, and the more people who come out and contribute to our revenue, the better off we’re going to be."

Cooler weather and a new directed health measure from the Governor’s office may bring attendance numbers back down again.

While the zoo can still host up to 10,000 guests in its outdoors areas, they will have to limit capacity at their indoor exhibits to 50% until November 30.

“So we have monitors there to help us watch that and make sure we stay below that area," Schnursbusch said.

The zoo is going to be receiving some money from state through the CARES Act, but these funds can only go toward COVID-related projects, not lost revenue.

Like with many things, the ongoing pandemic is creating an uncertain future for Omaha's zoo.

“This isn’t over with. We’re looking at 2021 expecting much less visitation than what we’ve seen in previous years," Schnursbusch said. "And so we’re being very conservative and trying to move forward as cautiously as we can with it.”

On Monday, the Governor did announce that zoos in Nebraska would be getting $6.05 million through a grant program, but the zoo says they are still waiting on details for that.

You can contribute to the zoo’s emergency fund or buy tickets at omahazoo.com.