The director general of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) says the future of Whipsnade Zoo ‘hangs in the balance’ due to the impact of COVID-19.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and London Zoo have been closed to the public since March 23, the start of lockdown.
A lack of funding leaves ZSL’s world-leading expertise in the science of wildlife health and managing zoonotic diseases in serious jeopardy.
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A statement from ZSL’s director general, Dominic Jermey, said: “The impact of COVID-19 means ZSL – whose income relies on zoo visitors - finds itself in an unthinkable position.
“With its zoos shut to the public, the future of this iconic national institution, with all its science and global conservation, hangs in the balance.
“You can’t simply mothball a zoo and furlough all the staff to save money - our 20,000 giraffes, tigers, lions, meerkats, penguins and other animals need us as much today as any other day.
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“COVID-19 has had devastating impact for many, across the world. Having already cut off ZSL’s income, COVID-19 dealt us a fresh blow last week, from which we are reeling.
“Following complex negotiations with the bank, they told us they were unable to provide the kind of major loan we need, even under the Government’s special coronavirus schemes.
“This is because, as a responsibly run charity investing in conservation, we do not generate the cash required to pay off bank debt.
“Conversations with the bank continue; they want to help. Ironically, ZSL entered this crisis with no debt and decent reserves.
“Without income, those reserves are dwindling and we now desperately need a significant injection of cash to help us through this COVID-19 crisis.
“Our scientists at the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo may hold the key to preventing future pandemics like COVID-19.
“Our pioneering research feeds into governments at the highest level, helping to set policy on crucial topics including infectious disease that crosses species barriers like Ebola and bovine TB.
“Our global network of conservationists work with local communities to bring back species from the brink of extinction and shape the understanding of how we can reverse the global loss of biodiversity.
“ZSL’s zoological and conservation knowledge, experience and expertise is more valuable to the UK than ever.
“The immense scale of the challenge facing the government is clear. The measures put in place by government to support businesses are unprecedented, including the zoo fund announced by DEFRA to support small zoos.
“Mechanisms like the furlough scheme make a real difference. But national institutions such as ZSL and its zoos can’t slip through the cracks.
“Now is the time for the UK to show its commitment to ZSL’s globally important role, before our unthinkable position becomes an untenable one.
“Britain must continue its longstanding global leadership in zoological discovery and scientific endeavour – ZSL can help make sure that happens.”
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo issued an appeal for the public’s help on Facebook and the support from the public has poured in.
One person commented on Facebook: “I would be happy for them to keep my membership running through the closure! I would even renew it even if they were still closed.”
Another added: “Whipsnade is the first place on my list to visit as soon as we can. Hopefully it will be really soon because it is an outdoor venue.”
One person commented: “I’ve donated and I will be renewing my membership when it runs out, whether we can visit or not. Whipsnade is my happy place, keep up the good work guys and girls. Can’t wait to visit once it is safe to do so.”
Another added: “Just donated. I’ve come to whipsnade zoo for many years. When a small child with my mum and nan. Then when I had children I brought them. And also with my grandchildren. So I love whipsnade zoo. Loads of happy memories.”
Following the Prime Minister’s latest announcement on Sunday, May 10, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is not making any immediate changes.
A spokesperson for the ZSL said: “We’re not making any immediate changes following the announcement, and will continue to wait for guidance as to when our zoos can reopen – we’re working on plans to make sure we do so safely and responsibly.
“We’ve been amazed by the public reaction, their support and donations are so appreciated and show just how important we are to so many.”
ZSL is appealing for the public’s support to help the zookeepers look after the animals.To make a donation click here.
While Whipsnade Zoo has been closed to visitors the zookeepers have been sharing regular updates through Facebookand the zoo has welcomed a number of new animals during lockdown.