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ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — The Attleboro City Council has voted to use hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID relief funding to bail out the city’s struggling zoo.

The Capron Park Zoo, which opened in 1937 and is home to 126 animals of varying species, has been operating in the red. The pandemic only made matters worse, according to Attleboro City Council President Jay DiLiso.

“During the pandemic, the zoo didn’t have the visitors coming to see it that they typically would in a normal year,” DiLisio explained. “It’s not just the visitors. It’s the camps, it’s the special events that happen. The revenue wasn’t coming in, yet the expenses weren’t going away.”

DiLisio said Capron Park still had to care for its animals, and the costs piled up. The zoo relies on a revolving fund to pay employees and cover expenses.

“The food costs, the medical costs, the veterinary costs … all of it, combined with people not coming out to the zoo because of the pandemic, impacted it,” he added.

The zoo still hasn’t recovered. That’s why the city council decided to allocate $470,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to the zoo to temporarily save it.

The cash will hold them over until the Capron Zoo Task Force, which consists of city and zoo leaders, comes up with a long-term solution.

“What we want to do with this cash is make sure the zoo can operate this year and into next year while we come up with a plan to figure out how do we make this a sustainable process going forward,” DiLisio, who is on the task force, continued.

In a statement, Attleboro Mayor Cathleen DeSimone said many zoos are in similar situations across the country and are reevaluating the way they operate.

“Although the context of our situation is far from ideal, it is also an opportunity to think anew about what our small and wonderful city zoo could and should be in the future and what the best financial and organizational structure is to accomplish those objectives,” the mayor wrote. “In accomplishing this task, I have asked the members of the Capron Zoo Task Force to be honest, bold, and creative and to think broadly about the historical and potential value and role of the zoo in the city and the larger community.”

“I am quite certain that Capron Park Zoo will be loved an enjoyed by future generations of Attleboro residents and visitors,” she continued.

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