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176 www. bus- ex. com August 09 The human cost of Hurricane Katrina was broadcast around the world, but there is another side to this story, Andrew Pelis learns, as the people of New Orleans gradually rebuilt their lives and environment Animal magic T he effects of Hurricane Katrina were far- reaching and devastated lives, communities and businesses. The sense of community at that time was perhaps never more heartfelt, and the lessons learned are a major driver for one of the region's largest attractions. The Audubon Nature Institute, located in various sites around the New Orleans area, is home to the Audubon Zoo. One of the main focuses of the Audubon Nature Institute is to educate on ecology and environmental issues, bringing the community to understand wildlife through a variety of exciting interactive projects. Part of the Institute's problem at that time was that tourism simply wasn't an option in the immediate aftermath of Katrina- a major issue for a business over 90 percent reliant on visitors for its revenue. Dale Stastny, chief operating officer for Audubon Nature Institute, has been with the organization for over 30 years. He describes himself as " the financial conductor of the orchestra that is our facilities and staff," putting together strategies

Over time we've brought back almost our entire staff, and we now have roughly 600 employees across the attractions," Stastny continues. He adds that most of the staff have grown up with Audubon and suggests that those who have left have done so to run other zoos, endorsing the training programs that the Institute runs. As Audubon Nature Institute has rebuilt, it has added to its burgeoning reputation. The Zoo is located in uptown New Orleans, alongside the river and situated on 58 acres; located on the site of the 400- acre Audubon Park, it covers the whole gamut of animals, including white tigers and primates, but is perhaps best known for its award- winning Louisiana Swamp feature, including white alligators. The Institute operates another 10 acres of land at Woldenberg Riverfront Park, which includes Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, in the historic French Quarter, while the Insectarium occupies 30,000 square feet of space in a nearby federal building. The Zoo and Park are over 100 years old, though, Stastny explains, with many of the buildings constructed in 1930 as part of a federal infrastructure program. " The Zoo's renaissance really began in the late 1970s, when voters approved a small tax increase that allowed us to make a series of small improvements and which we continue to make today. " Many of these projects are designed with the community in mind," he continues, " and we're currently working on the creation of a water play area for kids called ' Cool Zoo', which should open in 2010. For each individual project we've been fortunate to work with a team of local architects and engineers, and people have designed features to fit in with the environment and architectural context, which is particularly important in the French Quarter." Stastny believes that it is critical for Audubon ( and other such attractions) to focus on education and to be as creative as possible with new initiatives that will attract community interest and visitors. " We're always introducing new ideas. We have 20,000 school kids visiting us each year, and we always make available information packages that they can download in the classroom. We also run summer camps and teacher workshops, and we provide mobile vehicles to take animals to visit schools and the aged." Audubon Nature Institute and providing the resources necessary to build and maintain each site. During his time with Audubon, Stastny has seen dramatic growth and a variety of challenges, but nothing to compare with the effects of Katrina. " When I started out we had just a small zoo and park. Today we operate 10 facilities across the city, including the Zoo, the Aquarium, the Insectarium, the Entergy IMAX theatre, and several public parks and endangered species breeding and research centers, including Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species." Growth was steady until 2005, when the hurricane hit, affecting not just the sites but employees too. " After Katrina we were totally shut down for a while and went from 600 staff to 60. At the time, none of the facilities flooded, but they did suffer from wind damage; fortunately, none of the animals at the Zoo were severely affected, and the research center remained largely intact. However, we lost power at the Aquarium for several weeks, and eventually that caused a generator to fail, so we lost all our fish. Our key staff stayed on the ground during this time, but we needed to get the remaining staff back into the city- people having of course evacuated." The Zoo reopened three months later on Thanksgiving weekend, free of charge, attracting some 60,000 visitors. " It was a very emotional time for everyone," Stastny recalls. " There is a high level of emotional connection to the animals, and our staff members are highly trained and tend to stay with Audubon for many years, so to reopen after what had happened affected everybody." The Aquarium took nine months to reopen its doors, relying on tremendous support from other aquariums. " We received a lot of help and ended up with a more diverse collection post- Katrina. August 09 www. bus- ex. com 177