Government must not continue to overlook zoos and aquariums in this pandemic
Zoos and aquariums are an important part of our economy and as significant cultural institutions they deserve government support. We need to establish a Zoo Recovery Fund.
Zoos and aquariums have regrettably fallen between the gaps in government support. We must recognise the need to support zoos and aquariums through a Zoo Recovery Fund.
Despite the incredible imagination shown by government in response to coronavirus, zoos and aquariums have been overlooked. They have now lost their crucial Easter visitor season. On top of this, they are not eligible for the same level of support that is being offered other sectors to help them regain financial stability. Surely this cannot be right?
Zoos and aquariums are unique in caring for thousands of animals from across the world, fighting extinction and aiding government in achieving its ambitious environmental agenda. Like many my passion for conservation was nurtured by visiting zoos and seeing amazing wildlife up close.
Few other sectors care for the thousands of amazing animals that zoos have through this pandemic. Whether that’s feeding herds of elephants every day, breeding last-of-their-kind species or reintroducing them to the wild. And other sectors have been able to make better use of the furlough scheme – if you cannot furlough a tiger, you cannot furlough its keeper.
Evidence of the sector being overlooked cannot be clearer when the roadmap allows a gift shop in an aquarium to open before the aquarium itself
It is right that tailored support is provided that has the unique roles of zoos and aquariums as animal carers, conservationists, educators and scientists at its heart.
Government has done a fantastic job supporting other sectors reliant on visitors, such as culture and heritage with substantial and long-term support such as the Cultural Recovery Fund. But zoos and aquariums have been missed. We are now in an extraordinary position where a painting of a rhino has more government financial support than a living breathing rhino. Zoos and aquariums are important parts of the visitor and cultural economy and as significant cultural institutions they deserve institutional support.
The roadmap out of lockdown adds its own challenges for zoos and aquariums. Evidence of the sector being overlooked cannot be clearer when the roadmap allows a gift shop in an aquarium, as non-essential retail, to open before the aquarium itself.
I struggle to understand why, as outdoor attractions, we are not able to safely visit a zoo sooner or why aquariums, with their shoals of fish and sea turtles to feed, will not be able to open in line with non-essential retail.
The support that has been offered has regrettably not met the moment. The Zoo Animals Fund only covers animal welfare costs and is only applicable in emergency situations. This is a bit like offering support for the artwork in the National Gallery without supporting the Gallery itself. Consequently, just £7m out of the £100m allocated has been spent. The vast majority of zoos, including some of the most famous such as Chester Zoo and London Zoo, have received no help from the Zoo Animals Fund.
The time is right to establish a Zoo Recovery Fund. As a post-pandemic reality draws closer, the effects of Covid-19 will continue to be felt by zoos and aquariums. It is right that organisations which are normally financially sustainable are supported through these extraordinary times through public spending. And of course, the Zoo Recovery Fund offers the government the great advantage of not having to find any new money - £93 million of the funds allocated to the sector is currently unspent!
Whatever form of support comes forth for the sector it must be able to be used by all zoos and aquariums, it must support the entire remit of their work and it must be spent.
A Zoo Recovery Fund makes sense whether animal welfare, supporting businesses, supporting the government’s green agenda, supporting the visitor economy or just making good use of tax-payer money is your top priority.
Lord Randall is a Conservative member of the House of Lords and former environment advisor to Theresa May.
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