London Zoo says it could be forced to close for good as bosses grapple to find a £25 million injection of cash needed to keep it afloat.
The popular attraction is facing its worst crisis in history, with reserves running out and mammoth running costs racking up. It has been closed since March 20 as a result of coronavirus lockdown, but despite furloughing 280 staff and cutting salaries of others, it is costing £2.3 million a month to feed and look after the animals, Mailonline reports.
Closing could put the zoo’s world-renowned collection of more than 20,000 animals at risk and jeopardises the conservation work being done by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The income from the zoo underpins ZSL’s scientific research institute and global conservation programmes, including work on stopping the illegal wildlife trade – the main cause of infections spreading from wild animals to people.
ZSL said it was struggling to obtain financial support from banks, because the organisation has no history of borrowing and cannot access the kind of major commercial loan it needs in the face of now dwindling reserves. It also operates to invest everything back into conservation and science, which makes it hard for it to generate profits to pay off a loan.
Director general Dominic Jermey said the situation was putting it in a ‘very challenging’ position.
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He said: ‘In good faith we are having conversations with very generous people who have supported us in the past, and with banks, in order to make sure the future does not remain perilous.
‘But at the moment it’s a very challenging moment for the organisation.’
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The idea that the pandemic could spell the end of London Zoo ‘would be absolutely unthinkable’, he said, adding ‘the plain facts of any organisation is we can’t continue to operate without any income’.
Mr Jeremey said London Zoo had only ever shut once before since opening in 1847. It closed for two weeks during the Blitz, and reopened at the request of the Government to boost morale in the capital as World War II raged on.
While he acknowledged the government had a lot on its hands, he said ‘a national institution such as ZSL and its zoos cannot slip through the cracks.’
Ministers have announced a £14 million fund to support zoos hit by the pandemic lockdown but ZSL said the focus was on small grants for small zoos and an institution of its size needs much more significant support.
He said ZSL was ‘determined to be part of the solution’ with its work on wildlife diseases and, as lockdown begins to ease, by offering people a safe space they can go and enjoy an outside experience in a socially distant way.
London Zoo and its sister site Whipsnade Zoo, in Bedfordshire, have plans to give people confidence to come – in smaller numbers – once they are allowed to, with measures including contactless-only payments, hygiene points, a one-way system and being an outdoor-only experience to begin with.
ZSL has launched a fundraising drive for members of the public to support the zoos and its work, which you can donate to here.
The warning comes after zoologisits around the world reported animals were getting lonely without visitors.
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