Andrew Rosindell MP is the Chairman of the Zoos and Aquariums APPG. and former Shadow Minister for Animal Welfare.
At this time of national emergency, one sector in danger of being forgotten are Britain’s much-loved zoos and aquariums. As I write, they are facing an unprecedented crisis.
Easter would normally signal the start of the season for zoos, aquariums and other similar wildlife and conservation institutions, but today their gates are locked and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
They are currently receiving none of the visitor income the sector always relies on, which has all come to a stop. However, they still need to continue to care and provide the highest level of welfare standards for the animals in their collections, as per the statutory requirements.
There are 420 licenced zoos in the UK and 122 members of the trade association, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) demonstrating that good zoos have a crucial function to play within in our society. In 2019, these 122 BIAZA members enjoyed 35.7m visits, contributed £658+m to the economy and employed over 11,000 staff.
They also delivered impactful conservation outcomes; the BIAZA members alone spent £35m on direct conservation projects, and provided conservation education to over 1.2m school children and adult learners in 2019.
As the Chairman of the APPG for Zoos and Aquariums, I know just how important good zoos and aquariums are. We cannot afford to lose this sector as part of our society’s tapestry, and the significant role it plays in preventing extinction, as well as providing a sustainable future for all species.
Zoos and aquariums have acted quickly to ensure they can stretch their budgets to continue to provide the highest standard of care to their animals until visitors are able to return. They have furloughed an average of 61% of their staff and utilised support measures put in place by the Government wherever possible. However, the scale of the pandemic, the uncertainty of the duration of the lockdown, and the high costs associated with caring for animals mean that these contingency plans, so diligently put in place, will not be sufficient.
I have serious concerns about the sector surviving this crisis. We cannot allow the worst to happen and our zoos and aquariums to be put at risk.
I am in touch with zoos and aquariums across the UK constantly and have been contacting ministers on their behalf, to appeal for help. I have even been in touch with the Prime Minister, who I know understands the importance of conservation, animal welfare and the protection of endangered species better than any other recent holder of that office, but unfortunately things are moving too slowly.
We need the government to act now, before we start to see permanent closures of some our most beloved zoos, aquariums and wildlife centres and the awful prospect of healthy animals, that cannot be re-homed, euthanised. This would be a national tragedy.
So, as Chairman of the APPG for Zoos and Aquariums, I call on the government to support BIAZA in their urgent cry for help.
There are two things the government should do immediately:
- Provide urgent and substantial emergency funding to get Britain’s zoos and aquariums past the peak of the crisis, and ensure that where permanent closure occurs, it is possible to relocate the animals to other zoos in the UK or overseas.
- Deliver on an immediate exemption for furloughed zoo workers to be able to volunteer to provide essential animal welfare activities within their own organisations. In normal times, about 55% of a zoo’s operating costs are allocated to expert keepers and other staff who provide essential animal welfare duties. This measure will reduce the cost for salaries and enable budgets to be stretched further, as well as supporting zoos and aquariums in maintaining animal welfare standards until the lockdown ends and visitors begin to return.
I am also looking ahead to the future. Zoos and aquariums in the Czech Republic and Switzerland form a key part of re-opening strategies, as large open spaces where social distancing can be controlled, and where people can start enjoying life as the situation slowly returns to normal.
This is something that the Zoos and Aquariums APPG, with BIAZA and the zoo sector in general, will be exploring with DEFRA. and other relevant stakeholders over the coming weeks.
Britain is a nation of animal lovers. We care deeply about the animal kingdom, the wildlife, birds and sea life with whom we share this planet.
This wicked pandemic is already doing far too much damage to the lives of our people and our families, to our economy and our livelihoods. Let us act now to ensure that it is does not bring even more devastation to the animals in our care, to whom we have a duty to love and protect.