Photo by Derek Taylor (taylordesignstudios.com)

The Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo, announced on April 5 that it had furloughed or laid off about one third of zoo employees whose jobs are deemed “not critically essential to support the minimum operations of the organization.”

The move comes amid the zoo’s continued closure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brookfield Zoo has been closed to the public since March 19 and had been slated to remain closed through the month of April.

With no customers coming through the gates, the zoo “has practically no earned revenue stream at this time,” according to a statement announcing that the unpaid furloughs/layoffs were effective April 4 and for an unknown period of time

“The duration of the furlough/temporary layoffs is unknown at this time due to the evolving COVID-19 situation,” the statement said.

All departments of the zoo’s operations were affected by the layoff order, according to the statement, with the Chicago Zoological Society “keeping staff employed who ensure the health and welfare of the zoo’s animal population, maintenance and protection of the buildings and grounds and other critical support system and functions.”

While the furloughs/layoffs are in effect, employees will be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits, and they “will continue to receive medical and other benefits for a period of time.”

In an effort to obtain some financial relief, the Chicago Zoological Society is applying for loans through the federal stimulus program recently approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.

The society’s Board of Trustees and Women’s Board had planned on hosting its largest fundraiser of the year, its annual “Whirl” gala on April 25. That event is being called a “Virtu-Whirl!” and the society is soliciting donations online through its website CZS.org/donate. An online auction that’s part of the Whirl begins April 23 and closes April 25.

In another bid to maintain its revenue stream through the shutdown, Brookfield Zoo is asking its members to renew now and is asking those who aren’t currently members to consider becoming one. Existing memberships are also being extended in recognition of the existing closure.

“CZS has a preparedness team that has been meeting daily and planning for some time in anticipation of the pandemic extending a number of months,” the society’s statement said.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Zoological Society outsourced its food service and retail shop operations to a third-party vendor. Those employees are not among the ones affected by April 4 order, although they were impacted by the March 19 shutdown of the zoo.