Edinburgh Zoo bosses still planning for the return of gentle giant giraffes
Giraffes could be welcomed to Edinburgh this summer for the first time in more than 15 years despite the impact of Covid-19.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) wants to proceed with an ambitious plan to bring the world's tallest animals to the capital attraction as it battles to survive the financial implications of the coronavirus on its coffers.
A £2.8m state of the art giraffe house has already been completed along with a unique landscape for the animals, using ring-fenced funds secured prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
The zoo is currently closed to visitors due to coronavirus restrictions and although the pandemic has cast doubt on some of the RZSS' future work, bosses remain confident that a number of Rothschild's giraffes will be introduced to the site this year.
RZSS chief executive David Field said: "We've completed the enclosure, we've identified the giraffes and we are planning for them to come in a little bit later in the year.
"All being well they will be here for the summer. We have some giraffes allocated to us and we've actually looked for a couple more so we can get a nice big sort of bachelor herd to start with."
Edinburgh Zoo was home to giraffes from as early as the 1930s, but the animals have been absent in recent years due to a lack of an appropriate sized enclosure to care for them.
In the wild, giraffes are in decline with estimates of fewer than 100,000 left. Rothschild's giraffes represent one of the most endangered distinct populations. Once widespread across East Africa, just 3000 are thought to survive in the wild, with more than 50% of these in Uganda.
Last year, the Glenmorangie whisky distillery announced a three year partnership with the RZSS and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to protect the animals in the wild and create a habitat for them at Edinburgh Zoo.
The giraffes have been allocated from another UK attraction, partly due to complications in transporting animals from overseas caused by Covid restrictions and Brexit.
The animals, which can tower up to 18ft (5.5m) tall, will be able to roam around a landscape the size of a football pitch, which staff describe as having "the best views" at the zoo.
Mr Field added: "Giraffes face what we call the silent extinction because their populations are very quietly being decimated by habitat destruction and bushmeat hunting. We need to shout it from the rooftops because they are incredible animals.
"It will be absolutely incredible to have them in Edinburgh. They are a flagship species, a charismatic mega vertebrate which will just inspire people. My aim is that everyone who comes to the Zoo can get slobbered on from a giraffe."
It remains an incredibly difficult time for the RZSS, which had to borrow £5 million last year to stay afloat in the absence of income from visitors. Edinburgh Zoo and its sister attraction the Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore, need almost £700,000 per month to keep going.