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You otter believe it! Community raises more than $350k to cover Jacksonville Zoo's operating costs for rest of 2020

COVID-19 forced the zoo to close for about two months at the beginning of the pandemic. The spokesperson says attendance is down and they've struggled financially.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — More than $350,000 of donations have poured into the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens to support them through the end of the year. They surpassed their fundraising goal by more than $100,000.

COVID-19 closures and impacts put them in the red, but the community is pitching in to make sure the animals are taken care of.

The spokesperson for the zoo says they closed for about two months at the beginning of the pandemic. They are now back open seven days a week, but the spokesperson Morgan Purvis says attendance has been down. 

Expenses piled up.

No matter what is going on in the world or if their parking lot is empty, the zookeepers and staff show up and make sure the animals have a quality life. 

Zookeeper Katie Long says she had to take extra car to makes sure the animals in her section are taken care of, especially Buddy – the giant otter.

“He is very special because he is a completely blind otter. He was rescued from Guayana," Long said. 

“Everything was a little bit more laser focused because a lot of our animals ... are susceptible to the coronavirus. When everything came around, we were trying to be as safe as we can for us and our families, but also for the animals that are here at the zoo to make sure they’re safe and that they’re quality of life doesn’t change," said Long.

Her goal is to be an advocate for the animals, from Buddy to the 19-year-old rescue jaguar.

In a year when many people are counting change, the amount of donations amazed the zoo employees. Long says having a zoo in your community opens up educational opportunity. 

The Jacksonville Zoo's mission is "to foster understanding of the interaction of people, wildlife, and their environment."

“There’s really nothing more impressive than being blown away by an animal," Long said. "You know you stand in front of the lions and it takes your breath away. You hear one of these otters scream and it takes your breath away in the way books and stuff don’t normally teach you.” 

The zoo reopened in May and is now back open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. You have to buy your tickets online. There are a limited number of tickets to allow social distancing inside the zoo.

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