DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Hurricane Katrina wrecked much of the park around New Orleans' Audubon Zoo, but nearly all the animals survived. This weekend, the zoo welcomed its first visitors since the storm and NPR was there.
Mr. DAN MALONEY (General Curator, Audubon Zoo): My name is Dan Maloney and I'm the general curator here at the Audubon Zoo. Right now we're in World of Primates and these guys seems to be really glad that people are back. They've just been watching all day. They've just been watching the television; that is, the people that go by them. I saw the giraffes earlier this morning and they stopped dead in their tracks and looked out as the first guests came by their exhibit.
LAUREN LAWSON(ph) (Zoo Visitor): My name's Lauren, Lauren Lawson. So far I've seen all the primates and the orangutans climbing everywhere and pinching each other and biting each other. Yeah, I'm happy to be back and I'm glad my house is OK.
(Soundbite of zoo)
Unidentified Child #1: You know what? I just saw a bear over there.
Mr. MALONI: We were really fortune because out of nearly 1,500 animals, there was a raccoon that drowned and two young otters that died several days after the storm and then there's this Bali monitor that we're missing.
Mr. ROBERT HUGH(ph) (Zoo Visitor): I'm Robert Hugh and I brought my wife Randi Hugh(ph) and Ethan Hugh(ph) and Scott Hugh(ph). Yeah, we did have to evacuate. We went to Houston and then to Dallas.
Mrs. RANDI HUGH (Zoo Visitor): It's hard to explain to them that, you know, they can't go to Children's Museum, they can't go to the zoo, they can't go to Chuck E. Cheese, all these things that they're used to doing, even the library. It's very hard especially for our three-year-old to understand.
Unidentified Child #2: Come on. See you guys on this side of the door.
Mrs. HUGH: My oldest did ask when we were in Dallas at first. He wanted to know if his friends died. We had to explain to him that your house is still there, your friends are still there, everything is still there, but things are getting back to normal.
Mr. MALONI: We're coming up to the elephant yard.
Talk to me, Jean.
(Soundbite of elephant)
Mr. MALONI: Good girl.
Without revenue, without our guests coming, we were forced to make some really critical financial decisions and one of those was furloughing three-quarters of our staff. We went from just under 800 people to now just under 200 people. And this--animal staff went from nearly 65 to 35 people. We had to scale back to just weekends for now.
(Soundbite of elephants; birds)
Mr. MALONI: This exhibit is the last one they see when they leave. These are the Caribbean flamingoes. There's plenty of life still here in New Orleans.
(Soundbite of child laughing)
ELLIOTT: Our zoo story was produced by NPR's Audie Cornish and Diana Douglas.
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