EXCLUSIVE: Chester, London And Bristol Zoos Denied Government Support
The £100 million fund is aimed at helping wildlife institutions forced to close due to lockdown, but the vast majority have been unable to benefit from the cash due to strict eligibility criteria.
Now, an open letter has been sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson by "furious" MPs demanding the government replaces the Zoo Animals Fund, which was first announced back in June.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), who sent the letter, say the fund "fails to support much of the sector" because of restrictive eligibility criteria - and therefore puts vital conservation work at risk.
In order to receive a grant from the scheme, zoos must be down to their last 12 weeks of reserves - meaning the vast majority (including London, Bristol Zoo and Chester) have been excluded despite suffering massive losses as a result of the pandemic.
Chairman of the APPG Andrew Rosindell, is also MP for Romford, is calling on the Prime Minister to recognise the impact of the pandemic on zoos.
According to the APPG, only five out of 300 zoo licence holders in England, which includes zoos, aquariums or safari parks, have been able to receive a grant from the fund - meaning the vast majority of the £100 million provided remains unspent.
A spokesperson from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) said: "The policy effectively excludes all the major zoos as they would not be able to get down to 12 weeks without effectively closing."
Andrew Rosindell MP added: "We are in an astonishing place where a £100m support fund has been established and yet zoos that need help cannot access this money. This fund is inadequate and flawed. The Government has been told this for months. We should not have had to get to this position. It is imperative the Prime Minister steps in."
He continued: "We are facing an extinction crisis and need zoos like never before. The Prime Minister should join me and see for himself why this important work needs to be supported by the funding Government is apparently happy to spend."
A spokesperson from ZSL London Zoo, which will remain closed at least until 3rd December, said: "The Zoo Support Fund has remained out of reach for us and the vast majority of zoos because of the restrictive criteria - £97 million of the £100 million pledged by the Government remains unallocated."
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Bristol Zoo has also been unable to access the funding from the Zoo Animals Fund.
In June, the same month zoos and aquariums were allowed to reopen after lockdown, the government announced the £100m "rescue package" to support the care of animals in zoos and aquariums in England. This was a major increase from the £14m initial relief fund announced in May. Applications opened on 3 August 2020 with a deadline set for 16 November 2020.
The deadline to apply for the fund was extended last week by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to 29 January 2021. However the strict criteria stopping hundreds of zoo licence holders from taking advantage of it remains in place.
DEFRA has defended the Zoo Support Fund, emphasising that the eligibility criteria from the previous Zoo Support Fund has been expanded, increasing the amount of reserves that applicants must have from six weeks to 12 weeks. They also clarified that the grants were deigned to pay for animal welfare-related costs and essential maintenance, rather than education and conservation work.
The CEO of Chester Zoo, Dr Mark Pilgrim made a public plea in August saying: "We have no access to these funds and so we must continue to rely on the goodwill, compassion and amazing support of the public to save our zoo.
"Chester Zoo is again not able to benefit given the current parameters that have been applied to the fund.
A spokesperson for Chester Zoo said the statements made in August still stands, and that despite the support from the public earlier this year, the zoo has been left with a £5.5m hole in its finances following the first lockdown.
The closure for the second lockdown means they will likely lose another £700,000. If they have to cancel their Christmas Lanterns event, that figure will be closer to £2m.
The APPG says that zoos should be among the first places to reopen out of the current lockdown as they still have to care for their animals.
A government spokesperson confirmed to Tyla that the Prime Minister has received the APPG's letter and will respond in due course. They added: "We understand the challenges faced by zoos and aquariums during these unprecedented times, which is why we increased the grant cap to £730,000 and extended the deadline for applications by two and a half months.
"This helps ensure that zoos and aquariums facing severe financial difficulties can continue to provide the best possible care for their animals, and we stand ready to process any applications as quickly as possible."
Featured Image Credit: PA
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