Funding a ‘lifeline’ for zoos’ survival

by Nadia Isa

Australia’s zoos and aquariums will receive almost $95million in federal funding to help them survive the COVID-19 crisis. The $94.6million package will assist exhibiting zoos and aquariums with operational costs associated with animal care, as well as making sure the businesses can be ready to welcome visitors when restrictions are eased.

Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, said the funding would help ensure Australia’s zoos and aquariums would continue to provide quality treatment and care for their animals during this time. “Zookeepers, aquarium owners and veterinarians continue to play a lead role in wildlife recovery after the bushfires, from treatment and rehabilitation to the development of insurance populations,” Minister Ley said.

Eligible zoos and aquariums will have access to a grant which will contribute to up to six months of animal welfare operating costs including feed, enclosure, health and specialised care expenses and utilities directly related to housing and caring for animals.

Family-owned zoo Crocodylus Park in the Northern Territory has been seriously affected by the lack of tourists. “COVID-19 has been a serious game-changer for Crocodylus Park which has operated for 26 years and is 100 per cent dependent on tourist visitation,” said founder Professor Grahame Webb.

The park has been forced to let a number of staff go due to diminishing income. “Places like Crocodylus Park cannot be put in mothballs until the economy changes – most of our costs are incurred regardless of whether visitors come or not,” added Professor Webb.

In South Australia the Monarto Safari Park and Adelaide Zoo, run by Zoos SA, both closed in late March due to the pandemic and a spokesperson for Zoos SA said the federal funding is a “lifeline”. “This funding ensures organisations, including Zoos SA, can continue to look after animal welfare and ongoing conservation work,” Zoos SA told the SSAA. “This announcement will come as a huge relief for the many zoos and aquariums across the country which were without a financial safety net.”

The organisation spends $90,000 on food and $60,000 on utilities for its two locations every month, Adelaide Zoo’s male lion Mujambi getting through roughly 54kg of meat a week. Zoo and safari keepers are also committed to maintaining animal enrichment, implementing creative ways to make up for the lack of visitors. “This includes our chimp keepers dancing, blowing bubbles, drawing on windows, dressing up in costume and showing TV documentaries.

“Goats are taken on walks around Adelaide Zoo for their own enrichment but also for other animals to see them passing by. Keepers have used remote control cars to entertain meerkats, driving them back and forth past their enclosure.”

Zoos across Australia are determined to maintain animal welfare and enable them to re-open when it’s deemed safe. “For us, government-assistance packages are critical to allowing Crocodylus Park to remain ‘visitor-ready’ when it becomes possible to reopen in a safe way for people,” Professor Webb said. “We’re confident the light at the end of the tunnel will be switched back on but aware we’ll need to adapt to new social values and priorities. The next 12 months will be a steep, adaptive learning curve for us and everyone else.”

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