The 94-year-old renowned naturalist is at the forefront of the desperate appeal aiming to raise £12 million as part of a £25million rescue package to save more than 18,000 animals at risk. The famous zoo warns it is ‘at risk of extinction’ after it was forced to close for 12 weeks during lockdown.
As a result, bosses have struggled to keep up with the extortionate animal monthly food bill of £43,500, reported The Times. Although the zoo reopened last week, bosses say they are still in ‘dire peril’ and due to social distancing rules visitor numbers have been limited to 2,000 – just a fifth of its maximum capacity.
Sir David said: ‘What happens if you can’t raise the money to keep the animals? What happens if you can’t afford the food? Are we supposed to put them down?
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‘The immediate prospect of the zoo going financially bust is too awful to think of. Are we, or are we not, a civilised community that it can’t support a zoo?’
The zoo said it is facing its worst crisis since it opened its doors to the public in 1847, and this is the first time it has closed since the Second World War when it shut for less than two weeks.
Over the Easter and May holidays, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) a charity which owns the zoo and its sister site in Whipsnade, Bedfordshire, lost out on a profit of £8.5 million. The rescue package will cover the costs needed across both sites.
In order to keep London Zoo afloat, eight keepers have been living in a lodge on site. When some got Covid-19 symptoms and were forced to self-isolate, cleaners and maintenance staff took over feeding the animals.
The ZSL’s vital conservation work could be thrown into jeopardy if it does not urgently raise the funds.
The charity works with the government to tackle animal rights issues such as the illegal wildlife trade, while it carries out vital research into zoonotic diseases transmitted from animals to humans, and its conservation work helps to protect endangered species.
But the zoos are not eligible for a government bailout amid the pandemic, and bosses say they would be unable to repay interest costs on a business interruption scheme loan.
The seven lions which live at London Zoo and the Whipsnade site, which has 2,000 animals in total, eat around 170kg of meat in a week.
The tigers need on average 163kg of meat per month, a Komodo dragon consumes 4kg of meat, fish and eggs a week, while the zoos’ four western lowland gorillas need at least 11.9kg of veg every day.
Zoo keepers said many of the animals struggled without the daily human interaction during lockdown – the pygmy goats needed extra massages to calm them and Jimmy the gibbon’s loud calls echoed across the site every morning.
Sir David said it would be a ‘scandal’ if ‘this country can’t support’ London Zoo, which was the first scientific one in the world.
The appeal is somewhat of an emotional one for the TV broadcaster, whose career was launched in 1954 after he directed the BBC series Zoo Quest at the site.
He said: ‘There are three times as many people living on Earth as when I was collecting those animals. So the natural world has been overtaken by humanity and in the course of that we have denied space for a lot of animals.’
Since the ZSL opened both sites, their conservation work has been vital in saving numerous species. Workers currently take care of 16 species that are extinct in the wild, along with 42 critically endangered ones.
They have also rebuilt a population of 182 scimitar-horned oryx in Chad, which are extinct in the wild.
Once it is safe to release them into the wild, the animals are reintroduced into their natural habitats instead of keeping them in captivity.
During lockdown alone, the zoo helped its herd of Père David deer, which are extinct in the wild, to welcome 14 fawns. A yak calf was also born, along with a Przewalski’s foal.
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