A bobcat keeps a watchful eye from its perch at the Maine Wildlife Park on Nov. 2. The park closed for the season Nov. 11. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

GRAY — After operating at about 30% of visitor capacity during a shortened season and a steep drop in revenues, the Maine Wildlife Park is grappling with how to plan for an uncertain future.

The park closed for the season Nov. 11 and it’s too early to grasp the full impact that the coronavirus pandemic had and will continue to have on its revenues, park Superintendent Howie Powell said this week.

“We really don’t have any idea yet, it all depends,” Powell said. “This is not a sustainable way for us to operate, the way we operated this year. We’ve got to figure out something.”

None of the park’s animals were at risk of COVID-19, Superintendent Howie Powell said. After four tigers and three lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York tested positive for the virus in April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advised that only big cats, “panthera,” can catch the disease, Powell said. The park only has non-panthera, such as the two cougars, above. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

He doesn’t think this year’s shortfalls will force the park to shut down, but he said he and his staff are stuck “making this incredibly convoluted plan” because of the pandemic.

“How do we change for the future when we don’t know what the future is,” he asked.

The park cares for moose, bears, deer and some 30 other native Maine species that cannot be returned to the wild because they were injured, orphaned or raised in captivity.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife operates the park, but a 1992 state mandate dictates that the park must be “self-sufficient,” meaning it receives no state funding.

The majority of its income for operating expenses comes from admissions fees and direct donations. In fiscal year 2013, the latest year for which figures are online, the park’s total operating cost was $725,180, which includes. Total revenue for that period was $740,356. Powell said he is the process of figuring out the revenue from last season.

 

The nonprofit Friends of the Wildlife Park raises money for projects specific to the wildlife, such as new exhibits or surgeries for the animals, but does not contribute toward the operating costs.

Powell said that with the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the park opened for the season two months later than usual, in June. To keep the number of visitors down, it implemented a reservation system for groups of no more than 10. Signs directed the flow of traffic throughout the park and some exhibits, picnic areas and other areas were closed entirely.

In an average April-November season, the park draws 120,000 visitors from around the globe, according to its website. It averages about 1,500 visitors daily and 2,200 people might come through in a single day at the height of the season, Powell said.

Powell estimates the busiest day of the season this year saw about 700 visitors.

Powell said that while “bigger picture” items, such as visitor capacity, cost of admissions and other restrictions like the mask mandate, remain in flux, the park is better prepared to handle the smaller ticket items, from a reservation system to creating a distancing-friendly layout for the nature store.

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