Hollywild Animal Park, the unorthodox and troubled nonprofit zoo in Wellford, is leaning on volunteers and a few remaining staff members to care for nearly 500 non-releasable animals after parting ways with its executive director and curator while a majority of staff positions have been eliminated.
The park is closed for the winter season, as is typical, after falling short of fundraising goals set last year, and donations have been announced in recent months, but there is some question about whether the zoo will ever reopen.
“Right now there has not been a decision formally made to close the park, but obviously in the discussions we’ve looked at every option,” said Tiffany Hughes, vice president of Hollywild’s board of directors.
Kim Atchley, who served as Hollywild’s executive director since 2015, declined to comment on developments.
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Hughes said Atchley resigned on Monday and was unaware of the layoffs that occurred at the park on Wednesday.
“That was not why she resigned,” Hughes said.
The layoffs included curator Nigel Platt, the former general curator at Greenville Zoo.
Park founder and former executive director David Meeks, his wife Lucia and others are volunteering time and efforts to provide care for the zoo’s animals, many of which are exotic, Hughes said.
Last year Hollywild officials announced a goal to raise $500,000 before revising that to $250,000 – saying the money was essential to efforts to reorganize, upgrade and remain open after years of declining admissions that followed violations of federal regulations and an electrical fire in a primate barn that killed 27 animals in 2015.
“We had lots of community support, but we just didn’t reach the goal of $250,000 that we had set for the park,” Hughes said. “Even though our Holiday Lights had a stronger year than the last few years, the difference still wasn’t enough to offset that shortfall from our fundraising campaign.
“One of the primary goals is the care and wellbeing of our animals up to and beyond the USDA standards. We had to look at the finances and look at everything across the board. That was when the board during discussion made the very, very painful decision that we would have to do layoffs of a good portion of the park staff. It was a very painful decision for us to have to make, but it was necessary to ensure that we have what we need to care for the animals at this time of year.”
Hughes said officials are holding out hope that the park will open again in March as planned.
“That is our utmost goal,” Hughes said. “Obviously we are looking at every single option on the table that’s available to us. We are looking at every resource we have. The decision to close the park would be the very last decision we would choose to make. At this time there has not been a decision.”
An AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps team had been scheduled to donate at least 2,500 labor hours for improvement projects in the months to come at the park, which has collected three consecutive satisfactory inspection reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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