Government must let London and Whipsnade Zoos reopen, ZSL urges
London and Whipsnade Zoos have warned they face permanent closure if the Government does not reverse its decision to keep zoos shut as lockdown eases.
The two zoos, which are part of international conservation charity Zoological Society of London (ZSL), said they have worked to put measures in place to make sure visitors can return to the attractions safely.
But the Government has kept zoos, safari parks and aquariums closed – even as car showrooms, furniture stores and venues such as National Trust gardens reopen with social-distancing measures in place.
ZSL said the zoos, which are reliant on income from visitors to care for their animals and to fund global science and conservation projects – but which have been closed since March 21, are now heading towards financial crisis.
It is urging ministers to U-turn on the policy of keeping zoos shut this week and let them reopen their gates, ahead of an adjournment debate in Parliament on Thursday on the issue.
ZSL said it was not able to qualify for the Government’s zoo fund, and had been turned down for a bank loan on the “misunderstanding” the Government would help.
Income has dwindled while costs – including £1 million a month for caring for its animals – have mounted, the charity said.
ZSL director general Dominic Jermey said: “We’ve been vocal with our need for support since our doors were closed – launching a fundraising campaign and appealing to Government, banks and individuals for help.
“Unlike shops, museums and pubs, we couldn’t just shut the gates, press pause, and wait for the green light to return.
“Our zookeepers, veterinary teams and facilities teams have continued to come to work every day to ensure our precious animals remain healthy and cared for – and that costs money.”
He urged the public to write to their MPs to get them to support the reopening of zoos.
“We’re ready to reopen – safely and responsibly. We hope the Government is ready to make the right decision,” he added.
The zoos have put in measures including strictly limited capacity, one-way routes, new signage, and increased hand-washing facilities to make the venues safe for visitors.
Andrew Selous, MP for South West Bedfordshire, said it was “unthinkable” that Whipsnade could shut permanently.
He said: “We are now in the last chance saloon for Whipsnade.
“Unless there is a cash injection urgently, we could lose both of the zoos and all the vital work they do around the world.
“At a time when we are losing species faster than we have ever done and we need to value nature more than ever this would be an unmitigated disaster.”
Chester Zoo bosses has also warned it is “at risk of extinction” and could end the year £24 million in debt.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums said it has written to the Prime Minister’s office to highlight the “worsening financial situation of our members and the urgent need for Government action”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s father Stanley Johnson has also called for action to save Britain’s zoos.
Writing in The Sun newspaper, Mr Johnson, a longstanding conservationist, said zoos inspired and informed youngsters about nature, and funded conservation programmes around the world.
“It is important, then, that zoos should re-open as soon as possible. Because a good zoo not only looks after the welfare of animals, it also makes a vital contribution to conservation,” he said.