Bristol zoo warns it may never recover from coronavirus impact

One of the world’s oldest zoos has said it may never recover from the impact of the UK government’s decision not to allow it and other zoos to reopen as lockdown eases.

Bristol Zoological Society, which was founded in 1835, has said its reserves have run out and it will lose GBP2.6m in July and August if it cannot open Bristol Zoo Gardens. It said staff, volunteers, visitors and supporters were outraged and perplexed at the government’s stance, which it called “ridiculous and shocking”.

London and Whipsnade zoos also warned on Tuesday that they faced permanent closure if the government decision is not reversed, pointing out that it cost GBP1m a month to care for its animals.

MPs are due to discuss the issue in parliament on Thursday after lobbying from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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Justin Morris, the chief executive of Bristol Zoo Gardens, said: “We have reached a point where the future of zoos, including Bristol Zoo Gardens, is seriously at stake. We are watching other venues and shops reopening and it is absolutely heartbreaking that we are not allowed to welcome our visitors back as well. We simply can’t believe this is happening.

“Like any responsible charity we had financial reserves in place to mitigate against the immediate effects of being closed and have made the most of the government measures to offset costs.

“But there is only so much we can do. We have a living collection of animals to continue to care for and all of the costs associated with that. We cannot furlough all of our staff and we must also ensure that our sites are secure and maintained. The reality is that the cash has now run out.”

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Other English zoos that have expressed their growing concern include Chester, which argues that it can make its grounds much safer than beauty spots or large stores.

The director general of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which runs London and Whipsnade zoos, said: “Unlike shops, museums and pubs, we couldn’t just shut the gates, press pause, and wait for the green light to return.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We understand the challenges faced by zoos and aquariums during these unprecedented times but it’s vital that we do not move too quickly in reopening to ensure public health is protected.

“We have provided a GBP14m support fund to ensure smaller zoos are able to continue to care for their animals. We are continuing to engage with some of the larger zoos to discuss their concerns around reopening and the need for further funding.”


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