Zoo charity faces fight for survival

Ed zoo

RZSS, which operates Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Animal Park, has made a plea for it to be allowed to reopen before the middle of next month

12th June 2020 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

A charity which operates two of Scotland’s most popular attractions faces a fight for survival.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) has appealed to the Scottish Government to find a safe way to reopen Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, warning that the charity’s future remains at risk.

While zoos and safari parks in England can reopen from Monday (15 June), Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park have been told the earliest they can open is 15 July.

RZSS chief executive David Field said, “We welcome the Scottish Government’s efforts to reopen the tourism sector in Scotland because we desperately need our parks to open again.

“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 by the start of July.

“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 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 by the start of July 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.”

Earlier this week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she sympathised with the struggle zoos face but said exceptions cannot be made.

She said: “I want to be in a position where we can signal reopening to organisations like that (Edinburgh Zoo) as quickly as possible but we have to do this in a careful and properly assessed way.

“We cannot start to take individual decisions based on particular circumstances of particular organisations. Not because we don’t desperately want to do what organisations like Edinburgh Zoo are asking, but because if we start to operate like that we will end up in a mess, the virus may run out of control and we’ll have to reverse some of these things.”