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Deciding to start a blog centred around visiting and reviewing zoos seemed like a great idea in February… right now it feels a bit ill-timed. However, having my own little space online at least gives me a chance to add my voice to the 100,000+ people who have collectively given over £2m to Chester Zoo.

Right now, it is our biggest zoos which are the hardest hit. The government support package tops out at a maximum grant of £100k. This is a useful amount of money for a smaller zoo and will likely save a number of zoos from going out of business. When you start to scale up though, you need much more than £100k.

On Chester Zoo’s recent fundraising campaign they state that is costs them £465,000 a month to keep the zoo running. This means the government support will last about a week. Chester Zoo aren’t the only zoo of this size and I’m sure ZSL & RSZZ also have similar sized outgoings. In fact, I’d bet there are at least 20 zoos in the country for which £100k doesn’t cover a full month.

So where can a big zoo get the money from to keep operating? I’ve come up with six potential sources and, to spoil the ending, the public remain the only viable one so help where you can!

  1. Itself – most zoos will have some kind of fund set aside for a bad summer. The nature of an outdoor based entertainment industry means you have to have some kind of pot of money to get you through a really rainy summer. Some zoos may have money set aside for expanding and I’d be surprised if they weren’t already eating through this. The issue with pots of money is that they run out and there is a difference between a fund to get you through a rainy year and a fund to cover three months of expenses with no income.
  2. Government – As mentioned above, the government has given some support but it doesn’t quite cut the mustard for the big zoos.
  3. NGOs – There will be charities and organisations who have money and grants for specific breeding programmes or certain types of staff training. This is going to be very small compared to the other sources and a lot of these charities will themselves be struggling.
  4. Banks – Banks will lend money but it always comes at a cost which is proportional to the risk. Right now, if I was a bank I’d have no idea when I’d get paid back, if at all, and so this is going to be a very expensive source of cash. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has already borrowed £5m specifically to support its two wildlife parks (Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park).
  5. Insurance – Believe it or not, there is insurance that might pay out for this kind of situation. Business continuity insurance and disaster insurance do exist but this is a very specialised field and who knows whether zoos have been able to access these kinds of products.
  6. The public – c95% of a zoos income comes from admission fees and most of it comes in over the summer. It isn’t looking likely that zoos will be open soon and even if they do the numbers will be down.

The only one of the above options which has the capacity to grow and properly support, without causing issues for the future, is the public.

Those of us who are lucky enough to keep our jobs can help. In fact, we’re going to need to help if we want to go to the zoo next year. Without our support, we are soon going to see closures around the country and once the animals have been moved on, these zoos won’t be opening back up.

If you had thought of going to the zoo this summer then still buy your ticket or donate the same amount. If, like me, you were thinking of going to Yorkshire Wildlife Park then you can even give that ticket to a keyworker.

Please help if you can,

Alex

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