How do you get people to care about the budget cuts affecting your little corner of the imploding financial universe? You hire a prehensile-tailed porcupine named Wednesday to do your bidding for you. Obviously.
In an effort to raise awareness about New York Governor David Paterson's proposed cuts to funding for zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums, a group called the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) produced a video starring a spokesman posing as a zoo director. The zoo director explains to an unseen employee that Paterson's cuts mean layoffs are inevitable, but it's not until the end of the video that the unlucky worker is revealed to be the spiny porcupine. When he's done breaking the bad news to Wednesday, the director calls in the next doomed soul who appears to be a frog or toad (what's the difference, anyway?). (See the top 10 animal stories of 2008.)
"These animals help us tell the story about wildlife. They are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild," explains John Calvelli, a spokesman for the WCS, which distributed the video on Jan. 12. Since then, the group says it has tracked more than 20,000 letters and e-mails sent to the state of New York pleading for Paterson to reconsider his cuts.
Paterson, facing a $15 billion budget shortfall, wants to cut 55% of state funding to institutions like the Bronx Zoo in 2009 and 100% of state funding in 2010. According to Calvelli, state dollars make up a small percentage of institution budgets less than 10% in the case of the Bronx Zoo but any cuts will only add to anticipated reductions in endowments and other public funding. If the state pulls financing, Calvelli says, service and program cuts as well as (human) layoffs are possible.
And after a year in which 2.6 million jobs were lost nationwide more than in any year since 1945 the video's message is depressingly poignant. Says the zoo director to Wednesday the porcupine: "There's no easy way to say this ... We're gonna have to let you go ... Best of luck to you. I'd be glad to give you a great reference."