Edinburgh Zoo has announced plans to reduce its animal collection in its centenary year.
Bosses at the zoo have said there will also be an overhaul of the attraction, with old and crumbling enclosures across the 82-acre park removed and others upgraded.
Zoo chiefs have not yet revealed which animals in the collection could be set to move, and have stressed the action is not a money-saving measure.
The announcement has sparked concern about the zoo’s long-term plans, after a number of key attractions were moved to the Highland Wildlife Park.
The plan was revealed at the recent annual zoo review, where head of living collections Darren McGarry said: “The zoo will be looking at their collection over the next five years. We want to reduce the amount of animals in the collection and make some changes.”
It is understood animals which will remain at the zoo will fall under a specific list of criteria.
This will include ABC animals, popular species used in education for children such as aardvarks or bears; species with a historical link to the zoo, including the world famous penguins; and animals considered ambassadors of conservation, such as the meerkats or giant pandas.
Other considerations would include the animal species’ status in the wild, the possibility of breeding opportunities with other zoos and entertainment value.
Enclosures will also be under review with plans to “degrot and refresh” the zoo, which is home to more than 1000 animals, by removing old enclosures and carry out general maintenance.
Mr McGarry said: “The zoo is 100 years old and there are things that need to be updated.”
The planned changes follow the appointment of Professor Chris West as Royal Zoological Society of Scotland chief executive, who is understood to be keen to put his own stamp on the attraction in his first full year. A former CEO of Zoo South Australia (ZSA), he quit the post amid ongoing financial problems to take the job.
Edinburgh Zoo has come under financial strain in recent years after an ambitious £72 million masterplan funded by developing up to 120 homes on the hill fell through.
The collapse of the plans led to warnings in 2009 that the giant pandas might not come after all and that the giraffes and rhinos may have to go.
In September, Sofus the sea lion left for a Polish zoo after a four-year stay in the Capital. One of the original attractions at the zoo, sea lions were also among the most popular with visitors. The move came after bosses admitted they could not afford to upgrade his enclosure at an estimated cost of £1m.
Former Edinburgh West MP John Barrett, who sat on the zoo’s council from 1995 to 2001, said: “I have had concerns for many years that the zoo has never had a suitable long-term plan in place.
“Some of the tigers have moved north to Highland Wildlife Park, as have the bears. If they are considering further reductions on the collection, they do so at their own peril.”
Corstorphine councillor Paul Edie said: “I’ve always seen the zoo as a conservation organisation that runs as a visitor attraction to subsidise its work. The size of the collection is up to them but I would hope they would keep this in mind.”
In 2011, it was revealed the zoo had been in talks over handing the attraction to Spanish company Parques Reunidos (PR), plans for which have now been firmly ruled out.
The latest accounts for 2011 show that the annual cost for running the zoo is £10.5m. In that year it brought in £9.7m, although the arrival of the giant pandas in December that year is expected to have significantly boosted income for 2012.
In 2006, the zoo’s collection fell from 1201 animals to 1018 a a result of death or being moved to new homes.
Zoo expert and accountant Jeroen Jacobs, 27, from Antwerp, said: “In many zoos across the world, they have realised they need to have decent housing for the animals.
“Sometimes they decided that in order to improve things, when there are two animals, they would be better off with one. If that is the reason for reducing the number, it can only be a good choice.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh Zoo said: “Our animal experiences are extremely popular and we would love to introduce more, however we currently have no firm plans. It is standard practice to continually review animal collections in line with the wider contribution to conservation and education, but again we have no fixed plans. Any changes to the collection would not be with a view to making cost savings. Finally, enclosure upgrades planned for the next 12 months will be announced when we have something more concrete to talk about.”
It is not known whether any other big zoos have similar plans. Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire refused to comment.
INDIAN Rhinos were on the brink of extinction at the beginning of the 20th century, as the damage of 300 years of hunting, poaching and habitat destruction reduced numbers to about 200.
However, efforts to conserve this species has resulted in numbers slowly recovering, though they are still graded as “vulnerable”, meaning they face a high risk of extinction in the wild.
Edinburgh Zoo has two Indian rhinos, and while the two males will not produce any offspring on their own, there are plans to introduce them both to some lady rhinos once they reach sexual maturity.
One of the males will be sent to another zoo, and a female rhino will also be brought here.
BEFORE the arrival of pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang, Edinburgh Zoo’s penguins were arguably the best known of all the establishment’s inhabitants.
The penguins and the zoo go back a long way, and in 1918 they became the first animals successfully bred by the society. Archive shots show King George V and Queen Mary visiting their enclosure in 1935.
This year marks 61 years since the beginning of the famous penguin parade, which began after a Gentoo penguin escaped through an unsecured gate. Instead of capturing it, the keeper decided to allow other penguins to follow, and together they marched around the zoo. Details of a new £750,000 enclosure for the animals, dubbed “Penguin Rock”, were unveiled last November.
SOFUS the sea lion left Edinburgh Zoo last September, after bosses admitted they could not afford a £1m upgrade to his enclosure.
His departure marked the end of a 100-year history of sea lions at the zoo, with the first pair of pups being born within the complex in 1934.
Darren McGarry, head of animals at Edinburgh Zoo, had said: “Sea lions need to be kept in the right conditions and if we don’t have the money to do the improvements, they’ll need to go.”
However, while many in and around the Capital were saddened by Sofus’s departure, he may not have been quite as dismayed. His new home at Lodz Zoo, Poland, includes two females of breeding age.