As a long-time “zoo man” of 40 years I’ve seen a lot of changes in our field over time, most of them positive. But the impact of COVID-19 has impacted zoos and aquariums in ways I could not have predicted back in early March when the pandemic was finally resonating here in the U.S. This past week, things got very real (I had previously used surreal to describe what we are going through) for me as I watched two major zoos – both of them very strong supporters of the TSA – terminate large numbers of employees – some of them friends – and furlough others. 

As painful as this is – and as much as my heart aches – to see my colleague’s lives turned upside down, I consider the future of the TSA, whose success over the years has been deeply intertwined with that of the zoological institutions. What does our shared future hold, and what will the new normal look like? When zoos and aquariums reopen their doors, how long will it take for them to recover such that conservation spending is feasible again?

For 2020, the forecast is not good. We predict that funds from the zoo community will decline by 60% minimally, and that is an optimistic estimate. With funding from that sector at ~$350,000 in 2019, how can we compensate for that deficit?  Due to the shutdown, we are unable to rely on our popular Drink Beer. Save Turtles. events that provide cash flow from merchandise sales during the Spring and Summer months. Donor tours to the Turtle Survival Center have been canceled, and our monthly donations were down over 75% in March. To make things worse, we did not receive Payroll Protection Plan support from the Federal government. All these factors point to a very financially challenging year ahead for the TSA. 

Regretfully, I am compelled to reach out to our family of supporters and donors for your help getting through 2020. As I said in my last letter, the TSA has survived tough times in the past, but nothing compares to what we are seeing now.  Aside from diminished donor support, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a destabilizing effect on many rural impoverished communities in areas where we work to protect turtles and tortoises  Food shortages and hunger are leading to desperation, and pressures on wildlife are intensifying. Travel bans in some countries like Madagascar have compromised our enforcement capacity, so poaching for bushmeat is on the rise. Fortunately, our two tortoise conservation centers in the south are the largest source of income in these communities, providing us with at least some modicum of protection.

To end on a high note, I can take solace in knowing that good things can emerge from a crisis.  With Belize shut down, and our excellent field research team “stranded” there and unable to return home, some important new discoveries have been made on wild populations of Central American River Turtles. Findings on adult movements and juvenile habitat preference will help inform and guide our efforts to select suitable reintroduction sites for this species.

And remember, nothing tests family bonds like a crisis. The TSA family will get through this together.  As always, stay safe, be careful, and keep smiling.

All my Best,

Rick

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End note:

Fortunately, our legislators recognize the importance of charitable giving during this crisis and recently enacted the United States government stimulus bill (the “CARES Act”) that provides two new 2020 federal Tax Benefits to Donors; both are good through December 31, 2020:

Universal Deduction for Donations Up to $300 

The CARES Act will allow individual taxpayers who do not itemize their charitable giving to deduct up to $300 ($600 married filing jointly) in addition to the standard deduction.

Raising the Charitable Giving Deduction Cap

For those donors who itemize their deductions, and therefore directly write off gifts to charity, the current deduction cap is suspended making all monetary contributions fully deductible.

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