Edinburgh Zoo on brink of 'financial disaster' if it can't reopen to visitors by end of June
David Field, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said the charity is to ready to reopen the Capital zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park by the end of June if lockdown eases.
But he fears that any further delays in lifting restrictions which would lead to the attractions being closed over the peak summer months could be “financially disastrous”.
Mr Field, who joined RZSS from the Zoological Society of East Anglia earlier this week, revealed the wildlife conservation charity has had to borrow £5 million due to the closure of both parks.
He said: “We are talking to the Scottish Government and hope we can reopen within the next few weeks if Scotland moves into the next phase of lockdown and outdoor attractions can open again.
“Concerns have been raised by zoos in England which have been told the earliest they can reopen is in July, even though private gardens have already opened.
“Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park have large outdoor spaces and we can reopen safely by introducing social distancing, closing indoor areas, limiting visitor numbers and selling tickets online with time slots.
“Zoos with these covid-secure restrictions will be just as safe as private gardens and far safer than a crowded beach or public park.
“The many educational, physical and mental health benefits of visiting zoos and enjoying nature are also well known, which is why zoos in Europe have been among the first places to reopen.”
Mr Field, who has appealed for public donations to support RZSS, said the pandemic has already caused heavy financial losses.
“Almost all our income comes from our visitors and around sixty-five percent from April to August,” he said.
“We have furloughed staff and our generous supporters have raised funds to help feed our animals – but we have still had to borrow £5 million.
“The UK government has stepped in to help smaller zoos protect animal welfare through the zoo emergency fund but unfortunately RZSS and other large, charitable zoos are not eligible to apply for this support.
“Repaying our multi-million pound loans will have a significant impact on our parks and our globally important conservation activities.”
He warned: “If we cannot reopen soon then we will need to borrow even more, which could be financially disastrous.
“When this crisis is over, connecting with nature and being close to animals is going to be more important than ever, which is why it is vital that our parks open again and we can recover to continue our science, education and conservation work.”
On Wednesday, Chester Zoo – which has 35,000 animals in its collection – warned it was on the verge of ‘extinction’ a due to an indefinite closure.
Bosses launched the Save Our Zoo campaign after revealing it could end the year £24 million in debt and by Thursday, a JustGiving page set up by the zoo had raised more than £1m.