National Zoo funding on chopping block, too, as sequester nears

(CBS News) With $85 billion in federal budget cuts set to begin Friday, very little is safe in Washington, including the animals. The cuts would impact parks, national monuments, and even the animals at the National Zoo.

Damai, a rare Sumatra tiger, is now one of the most closely-watched animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Trainers are hopeful she's pregnant, but the only way to tell for sure is through an ultrasound.

So what does that have to do with the sequester? It turns out that getting Damai ready for her all-important ultrasound takes intensive daily training -- and that is one thing now in jeopardy.

Craig Saffoe, National Zoo curator, said, "Training research, things like that would be the first things on my list."

And research is what the zoo is known for across the world. It was the first to identify a fungus that could make as many as a third of the world's frogs extinct. It also discovered a virus that was killing baby elephants.

Zoo Director Dennis Kelly said, "If the sequester remains permanent, we're going to have to reduce our mission. We'll have to reduce our research, we'll have to reduce the number of animals we put on exhibit."

Kelly says the zoo would have to look at shutting down major exhibits. Kelly explained, "Major exhibits here include lions and tigers, it includes our reptile house where we do a lot of great research. It would include our great ape exhibit."

But the cuts would reach beyond the National Zoo. They would impact all of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., which are preparing for at least a 5 percent budget cut.

Also at risk are U.S. national parks, from Washington to the Blue Ridge Parkway to Yellowstone, which are facing reduced hours and services.

Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar characterized the impact as "very painful," describing the national parks as "economic engines."

Salazar said visitors should expect a reduced experience. He said, "The quality of experiences we are able to give to the American people and to visitors from other parts of the world really are part of an American heritage, and so much of that is that risk if we are not able to provide that quality that we now experience at these great places."

Salazar added the impact of the sequester may be seen on National Mall in Washington, as well, saying it will be dirtier with fewer people on the cleaning crew, and there won't be as much information available at the monuments because fewer people will be employed to help visitors.

For Jan Crawford's full report from "CBS This Morning," watch the video above.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.