Minnesota Zoo to bank on lions and giraffes to solve attendance slump

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Minnesota Zoo is betting on lions, zebras and giraffes to bring in more visitors and ward off future funding crises.

Earlier this month, the Apple Valley zoo indicated that it will be requesting $1.5 million in emergency funding from the state amid a budget shortfall caused by declining attendance, rising staff salaries and costs.

But the Star Tribune reports that in spite of its revenue problems, it is still pushing ahead with ambitious expansion plans to secure its future, at the center of which is a $30 million to $40 million African Savanna exhibit.

The exhibit won't open until 2021, but would feature animals such as lions, giraffes and zebras that the newspaper says would be a "continual draw for crowds," after a year in which attendance dropped 4.5 percent.

KARE 11 says the only other time the zoo has asked for extra funding was in 1999 when an $800,000 cash injection was approved, and its latest budget request is being supported by Governor Mark Dayton, albeit with reservations.

"I support the deficiency request, because, I'm told, without it the Zoo would have to close exhibits, transfer animals to other zoos, lay off staff, and severely disrupt its operations," he told the station. "However, I am very concerned that the Zoo board and managers arrived in this predicament; and I expect the legislature will properly take a close look at its costs, funding, and future plans during this session."

The zoo, which receives around a third of its annual funding from the state, has an operating budget of $25 million, WCCO reports, and laid off seven employees following a round of cuts in October that will save $500,000.

The Star Tribune notes that the zoo has other improvements planned for this year, including the addition of Hawaiian monk seals, and a zip line, while a $20 million project to revamp the snow monkey exhibit will follow in 2017.

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