Zoos and Economic Issues

Updated April 17, 2017

The modern zoo can be a treasure trove of experiences for some of the world's most exotic animals, but the cost of owning and maintaining a zoo is high and carries many hidden costs, such as veterinary care for exotic animals, habitat and facility maintenance, as well as general operating costs like utilities and employee salaries.

Jobs and Gross Domestic Product

A zoo of any size carries with it a series of operating costs that go directly into a local economy. According to a report from 2009, zoos that were members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) contributed 74,332 jobs to the United States economy, and with these jobs comes the associated annual earnings of zoo workers. According to the same report, zoos contribute £4.9 billion to the United States Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Capital Outlay for Construction and Utilities

As veterinary medicine continues to improve the lives of exotic animals in captivity, zoos require larger or improved facilities to house growing animal exhibits. Zoos contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the United States economy in construction projects to improve zoo facilities. Zoos also have annual operating costs, such as electricity and water use, which totalled over £1.3 billion in 2007.

Cost of Veterinary Care

Zoos have become very successful at breeding and caring for animals in captivity. Many zoos are now facing the issue of "surplus" populations of exotic animals that require veterinary care, food and shelter, which can cost a zoo a minimum of £16,250 in veterinary costs over the course of an animal's lifetime, according to the "Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association." Zoo managers try to place these animals with other zoos, either domestically or internationally.


Large zoos with fully updated facilities and a wide representation of exotic animals in exhibits that mimic their natural environments become attractive tourism destination for both domestic and international clientele. Tourists visiting a city for its zoo may also stay overnight in a hotel, buy meals and purchase other goods and services from local vendors. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the revenue generated from tourism provides £1.80 of benefit for the economy for every 60p spent by zoo management.

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About the Author

Victoria Martin has been a writer for more than 14 years. Her work has appeared in Jacksonville's "The Dialer World Magazine," San Francisco's "In Structure Magazine" and Northern California's weekly "The Word: Arts and Culture." Martin received her Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies from Humboldt State University.