No visitors means $2.5 million monthly losses for Detroit Zoo as pandemic losses pile on

Just because the gates are closed doesn't mean the work has stopped for staff at the Detroit zoo.

"We're closed to the public, but we are not closed to the animals," said Ron Kagan of the Detroit Zoo.

The 2,500 animals housed at the Royal Oak-based zoo still require round-the-clock care, despite budget issues and staff cuts that have arisen since COVID-19.

"Without the normal revenue that we get from the gate, each month we'd be losing about $2.5 million," he said.

It could still be sometime before any visitors return to see the animals. Large scale operations with no obvious ways of maintaining social distancing guidelines will need to wait until the state has a better handle on the virus.

So as Kagan and the rest of his staff wait, they're caring for the animals and even doing some additional research. 

"We are trying to understand whether the animals are in some way behaving differently or experiencing things differently now that we don't have 10,000 people here every day," said Kagan.

How they approach that is by assessing the cortisol levels in animal's stool samples. It tends to build up in animals and humans are stressed - a feeling many can sympathize with.

Staff plan to compare the results they get back now with those of future tests taken when people are let back into the zoo. That way, staff can see what the animals actually think of their human visitors.

"We want the animals to be animals, we want them to interact with each other. Not with us - we're not a circus, we don't train our animals to be our friends, we need them to be them," said Kagan.

While it's people that are largely self-isolating following the spread of coronavirus, animals have been known to contract the disease as well. Several lions and tigers in other zoos tested positive for COVID-19 previously. To protect them, staff ramped up their PPE use to protect the animals.

"All of those animals recovered, none of them got seriously ill. We understand they all had coughs and as we know, that is a symptom for some people," said Kagan.

Like most businesses, the Detroit Zoo is eager to open. When that happens, visitors will be treated to the sight of a hundred hand sanitizing stations throughout the property. Timed ticketing will also be in effect to limit crowds.

"One should assume you'll have a more intimate experience (with the animals), there might 1,000, not 10,000 in the zoo," said Kagan.

And for parents still waiting to occupy their kids, they can check out the zoo's website where several enclosures are being live-streamed. There's also a virtual tour that's available to people wanting to learn more about what the institution has to offer.