A CRITICISED fund designed to help zoos across the UK – including Chester Zoo – may be coming to an end next month, prompting fears the Government will be offering no support in future.

The Government's £100 million Zoo Animals Fund was set up to get zoos and aquariums through the coronavirus crisis.

But due to the extremely strict criteria which prevents the vast majority of zoos such as Chester Zoo from being able to apply, only £5 million of the funding has been distributed.

The Government has since announced the Zoo Animals Fund, which was due to end at the end of January, will be extended by four weeks in England, but the criteria is still in place.

BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has welcomed the extension, but raised serious concerns zoos will be left with no support at the end of the financial year.

The restrictive scheme has only benefited 28 zoos out of over 300 licence holders in England, with the vast majority of the scheme unspent and major zoos, such as Chester Zoo and London Zoo, effectively excluded from getting help by the design of the scheme.

Dr Cerian Tatchley, Joint Acting Director of BIAZA, said: “We know that Defra teams are working hard to get help to zoos, aquariums and safari parks, and we share much relief the scheme will be extended again. Yet we cannot allow just five per cent of support to be delivered, at a time all zoos desperately need help.

“Extension is welcome but not good enough if the majority of zoos remain excluded from help. Help is needed for the months of the pandemic ahead not just four weeks.”

A recent survey conducted by BIAZA showed:

  • At least 24 BIAZA members, nearly the same number of zoos that had accessed the Zoo Animals Fund, were facing permanent closure over the next 12 months.
  • Despite this risk, nearly 70% of survey respondents felt they were excluded from the Zoo Animals Fund, owing to the fund's restrictions
  • But 80% of respondents said successfully accessing the Zoo Animals Fund could help them survive.

Dr Sharon Redrobe, CEO of Twycross Zoo, said: "Like so many, the Zoo Animals Fund has failed to support Twycross Zoo, while we have lost millions of pounds in income. I cannot fathom why, with £95m unspent and the pandemic still raging, Government will not commit to replacing the scheme with one that helps all zoos."

Zoos, aquariums and safari parks have lost out on millions of pounds of visitor revenue, which they rely on to fund their conservation work as well as to care for their animals to the highest standards. Lockdowns have devastated the sector with numerous redundancies taking place.

Dr Tatchley added: “I am seriously worried what many zoos will do after February.

"Government has said they are willing to spend the remaining £95 million for zoos in need, we cannot allow those funds to disappear. We need Government Ministers to commit this to a new scheme to benefit all zoos and aquariums as they face their own fight against extinction.”

The current Zoo Animals Fund has been criticised for requiring 12 weeks of reserves, a policy which excludes the vast majority of zoos.

As animal care organisations, zoos must have larger reserves then other organisations so that in the event of closure they can move their animals to new homes – a process that can take months if not years, and would take even longer as Brexit has complicated animal movements across borders.

BIAZA is expecting a number of organisations could close for good without Government action.

The organisation said this would be a disaster for conservation, for communities, economies and importantly for the animals they care for.