NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — COVID-19 has caused visitation and revenue to plummet at the Nashville Zoo, putting future projects in jeopardy.
In 2019, the zoo welcomed more than 1.2 million guests. This year, Nashville Zoo officials are expecting just 360,000 visitors. If the prediction holds true, it would be the lowest attendance number since 2002.
"Now we're a much larger zoo but we're operating on the revenue of what, 18 years ago?" Nashville Zoo Spokesperson Jim Bartoo said.
Most of the drop comes from when the zoo was closed in the spring because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"We see 60 to 75% of our attendance in the spring, between March 15 and June 15, and that's when we were closed, Bartoo said, adding that the zoo's capacity is still capped at 50% under the current Metro mandate.
"Attendance is OK, but it's not going to make up for a giant hole we had in the spring," Bartoo said.
In a message to members, the zoo's president called the attendance and financial numbers "bleak," noting that 93% of the zoo's revenue comes from guests.
"It was a big financial hit for us," Bartoo said.
Zoo officials stressed that even with the impacts of COVID-19, all animals will be cared for.
"That is our priority, to make sure that our animals are fed and happy and safe, and that's going to take top billing over anything else," Bartoo said.
But officials said there could be cuts in other places, and future projects are now stuck in limbo.
"We had talked about building a komodo dragon exhibit, that's kind of on hold," Bartoo said. "We had a beautiful new entrance sign we were planning along Nolensville Road, and it was going to have waterfalls and lights and it was amazing, and it's just kind of hold right now, too."
So now zoo leaders are now looking to the community for support.
"Coming out to the zoo and seeing what we have to have to offer, and keeping your membership, buying a new membership, that's a great way to support us," Bartoo said.
You can learn more about donating or becoming a member of the Nashville Zoo on their website.