Chester Zoo: Endangered animals in 'last chance saloon' due to lack of Govt funding

14 April 2021, 10:59 | Updated: 14 April 2021, 11:01

Bosses at Chester Zoo are pleading with ministers to provide extra funding
Bosses at Chester Zoo are pleading with ministers to provide extra funding. Picture: PA Images
Thomas Dunn

By Thomas Dunn

One of Britain’s leading zoos has told LBC the lack of government support during the Covid pandemic for their conservation projects has played a role in pushing back efforts to support critically endangered animals around the world.

Chester Zoo supports hundreds of projects outside the UK, which aim to prevent critically endangered animals from extinction.

But as the charity has been unable to access any of the £100 million zoos fund set out by the Government in 2020, some projects have been halted until support becomes available again.

Chester Zoo CEO Jamie Christon said: "We normally have around £9-10 million to reinvest into the zoo every year, not only for the infrastructure at the zoo but also for our conservation projects here on site but also for the hundreds of projects we support abroad.

"Many of our projects in Madagascar have had to be put on hold or placed in a ticking over status. You can’t see that here at the zoo but it has impacted lots of different projects right around the world."

Even before the pandemic hit, scientists were warning of the threats to biodiversity and the risk that thousands of the world’s most recognisable animals could become extinct if action was not taken.

Last year, the Government announced the fund was being available to zoos in England to help them with costs while they remain closed.

But due to the strict criteria, only £5.5 million has been released, with no funds being made available for conservation projects run in the UK or abroad.

Projects affected include Chester Zoo's support for critically endangered eastern black rhinos in Uganda, Chimpanzees in Nigeria and Rothchild Giraffes in Uganda.

Chester Zoo Science Director, Dr Simon Dowell, said: "We are now in the last chance saloon with the global environmental crisis.

"A recent report found that over a million species are at imminent risk of extinction, so we really can’t afford to hold back our work.

"We appreciate that the zoos fund is there to support zoos are that really in trouble, but that’s as far as it goes at the moment and it fails to recognise the wider conservation work that we do and the importance of that."

Asked why the fund wasn’t being made available for these projects, with over £90 million of the fund still untouched, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Farming, Fisheries and Food, Victoria Prentis, told LBC: "The fund supports zoos and aquariums with their animal welfare costs, as well as essential maintenance.

"As announced in the recent Budget, the fund has been extended in response to the current lockdown, with applications open until 28 May and support provided until 30 June."

Up until today, there has still been no change to the criteria for the government’s zoo fund or any indication that the money could go to helping conservation work that zoos such as Chester does to help animals that are on the brink of extinction.