SAN DIEGO, CA—Citing “sagging first quarter profits” and disappointing 1995 revenue figures, the San Diego Zoo announced yesterday its decision to lay off nearly 2,000 animals, including all giraffes, vultures, elephants, snakes and a number of rare Siberian tigers. The creatures, many of whom have been with the zoo for over 30 years, have been released from their respective cages and pens, and are now free to roam the city in search of new homes, food sources and employment opportunities.
“The decision to lay off all these fine, hard-working animals, who have contributed so much to this zoo over the years, was an extremely difficult one,” zoo CEO Jack T. Morgan announced at a shareholders’ meeting yesterday. “We are fully confident, however, that this downsizing will help bring a leaner, healthier San Diego Zoo into the 21st century.”
According to zoo insiders, the released animals were let go largely due to decreasing productivity.
“Just look at a gorilla like KoKo, a 41-year-old lowland silverback,” noted zoo industry insider Calvert DeCahill said. “For the cost of feeding an old gorilla like him, the zoo could get about 15 young howler monkeys, each of whom can do the ass-scratching, swinging and screeching of at least five KoKos. That’s not cruel, that’s just smart business.”
Though released just yesterday, many of the animals have already run into problems with life on the outside. A rare Andalusian yellow-tailed ocelot, one of only 14 known to exist, was killed late last night on Chula Vista Boulevard when it mistook a speeding transit bus for a piece of fruit. At least 15 koalas have also died, foraging for eucalyptus leaves near electrified fences outside a the city’s major power plant.
Some animals have created inconveniences for others. Kenny, a 950-pound Arctic polar bear, wandered into a downtown supermarket’s frozen foods aisle in search of frozen fish products. When a stock boy politely asked the bear to leave, the bear mauled him to death.
“The animals will no doubt have some trouble adjusting at first,” said Morgan, who was brought in from a top Fortune 500 company last year to whip the zoo into financial shape by 1997. “That’s only natural when you’re switching careers.”
Some experts are skeptical that every animal will ultimately succeed on the outside.
“Look at a Galapagos turtle like Shelley,” said Beatrice Durning, a U.S. Labor De-partment official. “She just laid 400 eggs last week. Where is she ever going to get enough fish, much less find time to go conduct a proper job search?”
Added biologist Harvey Chist: “This is a problem that transcends species, class, order, genus, and even phylum.”
Others see more than simple economics in yesterday’s announcement.
“It’s interesting that all six elephants let go were of African descent,” ob-served NAACP spokesperson Ben-jamin J. Watts. “None of the Asians were fired. But that’s no surprise. They’ve been getting extra peanuts for years.”
To assist the laid-off animals, the San Diego Zoo has set up a Job Placement Center. Conveniently located near the Jungle World exhibit, the center features a bulletin board posting jobs openings at other zoos, in addition to circuses, nature preserves and traveling freak shows across the U.S. The job center also offers weekly training workshops to help animals build valuable interview, resume and cover letter-writing skills.
“We cannot keep these animals here anymore,” San Diego Zoo vice president Stanley Brock said. “But we are doing everything we pos-sibly can to help them get back on their feet—assuming they have feet. If they are snakes, or even seals, we will do everything in our power to get them on their proper ap-pen-da-ges.”
So far, no animals have signed up for the workshops.
Employment experts and wildlife naturalists agree that in order to survive, the soon-to-be-unemployed animals must develop and diversify their skills.
“An Amazon parrot whose only skills are squawking loudly and breaking nuts with its beak has little to offer today’s big corporations,” said Edmund Wills, a noted naturalist who frequently appears on PBS’s All Creatures Great and Small. “It must acquire new ones, like learning to fly into stiff winds, how to kill Anaconda snakes, or how to operate popular spreadsheet programs like Quicken and Excel.”