‘Last chance saloon’ warning from MP over Whipsnade Zoo’s cash crisis

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Whipsnade Zoo calls for government U-turn on zoo closures

An MP has warned that ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is in the “last chance saloon” and that without an urgent cash injection its vital work could be lost forever.

South West Beds MP Andrew Selous says he has been in regular contact with the Government and Dominic Jermey, the Director General of the Zoological Society of London, to try to get Whipsnade and London Zoo reopened.

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On Thursday, he will be attending a Parliamentary debate on the issue and will continue to talk to Ministers about the urgency of the situation.

Amur tigers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL Whipsnade ZooAmur tigers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
Amur tigers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

The zoos have been closed to the public since March 23, the start of lockdown, and Whipsnade has said its future hangs in the balance due to the impact of COVID-19.

Last month, it issued an appeal for the public’s help on Facebook and the support from the public has poured in.

Public gardens and garden centres have now reopened, and non-essential shops are due to reopen on June 15, but zoos have not been included in the list of outdoor ticketed venues that can reopen yet.

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ZSL is asking the government to review the decision to keep zoos closed.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (c) ZSLZSL Whipsnade Zoo (c) ZSL
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (c) ZSL

Mr Selous said: “ZSL is so much more than London and Whipsnade zoos.

“The work it did on the Dasgupta Review played an important role in getting COP26 to the United Kingdom.

“ZSL has helped the Treasury understand the value of nature to the economy and regularly does work for the Department for International Development.

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“It’s research work is looking at how viruses cross the species barrier to prevent the spread of any future coronaviruses.

Cheetah at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (c) ZSL Whipsnade ZooCheetah at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (c) ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
Cheetah at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (c) ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

“ZSL has reintroduced tigers to Nepal, Kenya and Indonesia and rhinos to Nepal and Kenya as well. It has stopped poaching in Cameroon.

“It’s helped protect coral in the Philippines, angelsharks off the coast of Wales and seals and eels in the Thames.

“When people ask me where I am the Member of Parliament for I often say Whipsnade Zoo because it is the best known part of my constituency.

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“It is unthinkable to me that we could lose Whipsnade and its global conservation and research work must continue as well.

“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.

“Whipsnade urgently needs cash in the form of grants and donations.”

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Mr Selous said he will continue to lobby the Government on this issue and he has rejoined Whipsnade as a member even though it is currently closed.

He added: “It is not right that National Trust and other gardens are now open, welcome though that is, while zoos remain closed.

“Whipsnade is on a 600 acre site and is therefore an ideal location to fully respect all social distancing requirements.”

A spokesperson for ZSL Whipsnade Zoo said: “We’re delighted that Andrew Selous MP is supporting ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, and joining us in our call to have the decision to keep zoos closed, urgently reviewed.

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“We’re asking our supporters to write to their local MP ahead of the adjournment debate this Thursday 11 June, to ask that they show us the same support.”

Sarah Owen, MP for Luton North, is also supporting Whipsnade’s bid to reopen and has written a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In a statement, she said: “The zoo is facing great uncertainty due to difficult but necessary coronavirus-related restrictions that have been introduced since March.

“Any reopening of businesses, organisations and services affected by covid-19 must be done in the safest possible way.

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“I personally would have preferred to see any easing of the lockdown happen only once we had a reliable mass test, track and trace system in place.

“However, to me, it seems illogical that outdoor garden centres have reopened, and the Government is currently planning to allow the reopening non-essential retail whilst Whipsnade Zoo, which is largely accessible outdoors, may remain closed.

“I understand that the director general of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has already developed a plan to make the zoo Covid-secure and with no current source of income, and millions in ongoing monthly running costs, the zoo desperately needs visitors or it may face permanent closure.

“The ZSL have been proactive in coming up with a plan in good faith in the hope of saving the much-loved zoos they operate in Bedfordshire and in London.

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“I have written to the government and asked if they can confirm if they have considered the ZSL’s plans to make their Whipsnade site Covid-secure.

“Whilst the Zoo Support Fund has been established to cover animal care costs, as literature published by the fund itself states, it cannot “guarantee to save every zoo and aquarium business or job”.

“This has been where the ZSL has hit trouble, as they must find £2.3m a month in running costs for Whipsnade and London Zoo or these sites risk being lost.

“I have written to the government and asked them to listen to people in Luton North and outline the basis on which zoos may have to remain closed.

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“I also urged them to offer a clarification on the evidence that suggests zoos must remain closed, even with a plan for covid security, but non-essential retail and car showrooms can reopen.”

ZSL Director General, Dominic Jermey, has said: “We find it simply bizarre that we have been told not to reopen ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoo to the public, despite having explained to government in great detail how we have redesigned the whole experience at our zoos to make them Covid-secure.

“Our zoos will look, feel and be safe, with a whole range of measures introduced – including additional handwashing facilities and sanitiser stations across the open air spaces of our zoos, fun and engaging wayfinders, 2m distance markers laid out in exhibits and one-way routes introduced to manage the flow of visitors safely.

“ZSL’s zoos should be part of the solution to COVID, providing COVID-secure outdoor experiences where a population emerging from lockdown can visit with confidence; instead, the longer we stay closed, the less likely we are to survive the lockdown.

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“Just as we remained open during WW2 to boost public morale, we believe that our zoos have a vitally uplifting role to play during these still-challenging times - safely connecting people to the natural world.

“Reopening will be an important step towards securing ZSL’s future but is by no means an instant fix: as an international conservation charity which relies heavily on zoo ticket sales to fund our vital work, after months of enforced closure we will still urgently need support.”

On Sunday, Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith held a productive meeting with a number of MPs to discuss the reopening of Chester Zoo, where he reiterated how the Government will continue to work closely with the zoo on the best way forward.

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.

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“We have provided a £14 million support fund to ensure smaller zoos are able to continue to care for their animals.

“We are also continuing to engage with some of the larger zoos to discuss their concerns around reopening and the need for further funding.”

To show your support for ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, click here.

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