Edinburgh Zoo bosses make desperate 11th hour plea to reopen as Nicola Sturgeon rules out early return of visitors

Edinburgh Zoo bosses have made a desperate 11th hour plea to reopen after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ruled out an early return of visitors.

By Stephen Wilkie
Thursday, 11th June 2020, 8:07 pm
Updated Friday, 12th June 2020, 8:16 am

The UK Government has given the green light for zoos and safari parks in England to open to the public from Monday.

But the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) had its hopes of opening at the end of this month dashed after Ms Sturgeon stuck firm to her July 15 date, which could tie in with the third phase of easing the lockdown measures.

Responding yesterday to a plea at First Minister’s Question time from Edinburgh West Lib-Dem MSP Adam Cole-Hamilton, who warned 300 jobs are at risk, Ms Sturgeon said public health measures are “not a popularity contest”.

RZSS chief executive David Field said the charity “desperately need our parks to open again”.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said a petition he launched calling for the zoo to reopen had garnered 3,000 signatures and warned costs are running at £700,000 a month.

But Ms Sturgeon said: “I want to be in a position where we can signal reopening to organisations like that as quickly as possible but we have to do this in a careful and properly assessed way.

“This is not a popularity contest, it’s about trying to get it right and that’s what I’m going to continue to strive to do.”

‘Desperate’ to reopen

Last night, the RZSS warned that Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park are at risk if they have to stay closed.

Chief executive David Field said the charity “desperately need our parks to open again”.

He added: “While we understand it is vital for lockdown measures to be eased gradually, we had hoped to open by the end of June as part of phase two, with similar safety measures to protect staff and visitors as the zoos and safari parks which will reopen in England over the next few days.

“We also expected to open before places like hotels, pubs and restaurants because our parks are ideal spaces for people and families to enjoy nature in safe outdoor environments.

“Delaying the reopening of Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park for at least five weeks means we will miss the start of the summer and lose £500,000.”

“We have had to borrow £5 million overall due to the loss of our visitor income and every day we remain closed increases the risk that we will not be able to continue our wildlife conservation work. This includes saving the wildcat in Scotland, breeding polar bears at Highland Wildlife Park, bringing giraffes to Edinburgh Zoo and protecting chimpanzees from poaching in Uganda.”

The wildlife conservation charity has written to the Scottish Government to suggest practical ways to reopen both parks.

“We have always been prepared to reopen initially to visitors and members from our local communities because we recognise that people travelling is a concern,” said Mr Field.

“All around Europe, we are seeing zoos reopen safely, with many visitors travelling by car rather than using public transport and people behaving with respect and responsibility when they arrive.

“Zoos and safari parks are perfect places for people to visit as society gradually starts to reopen and we will continue to discuss these community benefits with the Scottish Government in the hope that we can open for the start of the summer.

“Reopening will also help our charity recover because right now we are an endangered species in zoological terms.

“Everyone who loves Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park can play a part and make sure we have a bright future by giving a donation. The generous support we have received so far has been hugely appreciated.”

To donate to the Edinburgh Zoo appeal visit HERE.

To donate to the Highland Wildlife Park appeal visit HERE.