While BIAZA welcomes to the move, it has raised concerns that zoos will be left with no support at the end of the financial year, as they continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19. The extension to the scheme means that zoos can apply for the Zoo Animals Fund until 26 February.
To date, the fund has only benefitted 28 zoos in England, out of more than 300 licence holders. Much of the scheme is still unspent and larger zoos like Chester Zoo and London Zoo are effectively excluded.
Dr Cerian Tatchley, Joint Acting Director of BIAZA says, “We know that Defra teams are working hard to get help to zoos, aquariums and safari parks, and we share much relief the scheme will be extended again. Yet we cannot allow just 5% of support to be delivered, at a time all zoos desperately need help.”
“Extension is welcome but not good enough if the majority of zoos remain excluded from help. Help is needed for the months of the pandemic ahead not just four weeks.”
Help for zoos is vital
According to a recent BIAZA survey, at least 24 of its members are facing permanent closure over the course of this year. Despite this, almost 70% of those surveyed said they felt excluded from the Zoo Animals Fund, which is subject to several restrictions. 80% said that being able to access this fund could help them to survive.
Dr Sharon Redrobe, CEO of Twycross Zoo, says, “Like so many, the Zoo Animals Fund has failed to support Twycross Zoo, while we have lost millions of pounds in income. I cannot fathom why, with £95m unspent and the pandemic still raging, Government will not commit to replacing the scheme with one that helps all zoos.”
While closed to the public as a result of the pandemic, zoos, aquariums and safari parks are losing millions of pounds in visitor revenue. This income funds crucial conservation projects as well as paying for quality care for their animals. COVID-19 has hit the sector hard, resulting in widespread redundancies.
“I am seriously worried what many zoos will do after February. Government has said they are willing to spend the remaining £95 million for zoos in need, we cannot allow those funds to disappear. We need Government Ministers to commit this to a new scheme to benefit all zoos and aquariums as they face their own fight against extinction,” adds Dr Tatchley.
The issue with the current scheme is that it requires 12 weeks of reserves, a policy which excludes the vast majority of zoos. Zoos require larger reserves than other attractions so that they are able to move their animals to new homes in the event of closures. This is a complex and lengthy process, exacerbated by the fact that Brexit has complicated animal movements across borders.
BIAZA predicts that several organisations could close permanently if the Government does not take further action. Last year, the association released data which shows just how valuable its member facilities are for the economy.
Top image courtesy ZSL: Keepers remain on-site to look after the animals at ZSL London Zoo