Cherry Brook Zoo prepares for impending closure amid coronavirus pandemic

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Cherry Brook Zoo prepares for impending closure amid COVID-19 pandemic'
Coronavirus outbreak: Cherry Brook Zoo prepares for impending closure amid COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: Cherry Brook Zoo prepares for impending closure amid COVID-19 pandemic – May 3, 2020

Staff at Cherry Brook Zoo in Saint John have begun the slow process of winding down operations after the facility announced it will close its doors permanently.

The zoo’s board of trustees cited “severe financial pressures” as the result of the coronavirus pandemic as a major reason for the decision.

The zoo will attempt to find new homes for 35 different species totalling more than 60 animals.

“It’s been a personal nightmare, I think, to find ourselves in the situation where we’re actually…. you know, it’s officially closing,” said Martha McDevitt, executive director of Cherry Brook Zoo. “It’s like comparable to a death. The death of a dream. The death of a passion, a passion for the city and the community.”

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The zoo had been closed temporarily due to the pandemic, but there was optimism about its future.

McDevitt said the facility planned to mark its 46th anniversary this summer by unveiling a new strategic plan, including new partnerships and a rebrand of the zoo to a sanctuary.

The pandemic thwarted the plans.

“It’s very frustrating, to say the least,” McDevitt said. “To have a new direction that we were excited about, and I think people would have really got behind.”

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Coun. Gary Sullivan used to open his remarks at every council meeting by reminding residents to support Cherry Brook Zoo. He said he is saddened, but not surprised, by the closure.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Cherry Brook Zoo goes digital during COVID-19 pandemic'
Coronavirus outbreak: Cherry Brook Zoo goes digital during COVID-19 pandemic

Support from the City of Saint John dwindled in recent years and Sullivan called it “one of my failures on council” to be unable to convince other councillors to support the zoo.

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He said the zoo has made a big impact on his family.

“My own daughter has planned to be a (veterinarian) for as long as she’s been in school,” Sullivan said. “And, to a large part, it’s because of her visiting the Cherry Brook Zoo and being involved in summer camps here.”

McDevitt said the transfer of animals prior to the pandemic would take anywhere from two weeks to a number of months depending on the size and type of animal involved, paperwork and the location of the new home. The presence of COVID-19 may lengthen the process.

McDevitt said the zoo is working with Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) to place as many animals as possible in other zoos.

CAZA executive director and CEO Jim Facette said his organization has already received a number of expressions of interest from around Canada, and from a big cat sanctuary in Minnesota.

Provincial and international borders remain closed to all but essential travel, and Facette believes that could create some challenges.

“The travel between jurisdictions is an issue,” Facette said. “And even possible re-homing of the animals into the United States, whether it’s Minnesota for the cats, or anywhere else, for that matter.

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“How are you going to get across the border?”

McDevitt and Facette say support from the provincial government to ensure the health and safety of the animals in the coming weeks and months will be crucial as animals are moved.

McDevitt admitted some animals may have to be euthanized if no other facilities can take them, but she would not speculate on how many.

“Unfortunately, I do know that there are some animals that are older, and that may not be able to move,” she said. “They’re quite a few years past their life expectancy.

In announcing the closure, the zoo said it still needs support from the community to care for the animals until new homes can be found.

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