'Make or break' time for zoos anxiously awaiting Government funding
Zoos that have missed out on vital summer trade are now at risk of ruin because they cannot access money promised by the Government.
The owner of a popular Shropshire zoo which is between homes said the current situation is "a disaster in every single way" as he faces more than a year without visitor income and tries to apply for Government funding.
In June, the Government announced a £100 million Zoo Animals Fund to help zoos and aquariums in need of financial support following a drop in income due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite applications opening in August, the Government has now admitted none of the cash has reached zoos or aquariums.
In response to a written parliamentary question, environment minister Victoria Prentis said only four applications had been received since the Zoo Animals Fund was launched on August 3, all of which are still under review.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) said the scheme was too restrictive and many zoos would miss out as a result.
Scott Adams of the Exotic Zoo in Telford had been looking forward to opening his new site in central Telford this summer, having shut the old zoo late last year.
But the cruel timing of the pandemic meant that was not possible and he said the business is now in a "make or break" situation.
"We closed in December. I think for us it's going to be February next year when we open.
"It's a disaster in every single way. We're about to go a year and a few months without any income."
He said that he is trying to apply to the Zoo Animals Fund but that the process is complicated and requires documents that he does not have, and in some cases do not exist.
"It's not particularly been an easy process. Sometimes these things are 'black is black, white is white', and you're not going to get to speak to a person to explain.
"I'm looking for every back door in it because it's not easy.
"The application won't get accepted unless you can provide your grant paperwork... there is no paperwork. Some of these documents don't exist yet.
"When you're already struggling to run your business, keep people employed and keep animals, you've got this added stress.
"Any support at the moment is potentially make or break.
"This is going to be vital to our survival, so every day that goes by where we don't know whether we're going to get the support is just stressing and worrying. We are on the edge."
Chester Zoo is another attraction popular with Shropshire day trippers, and its chief operating officer has criticised the Government's approach.
Jamie Christon said: "The Government has said it is continuing to talk to large zoos like us to explore ways of supporting us and our vital efforts to prevent extinction. But still there is nothing on the table.
"After significant time spent in lengthy and what have been seemingly very positive discussions with Government representatives for several months, this is extremely disappointing for us."
A Government spokesperson said: "We understand the challenges zoos have been facing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"That is why we put in place this specialist fund specifically to ensure zoos facing severe financial difficulties can provide the best possible care for their animals.
"We are rapidly processing current applications and we stand ready to support any future requests to the fund."
Zoos have until November 16 to apply for the funding. Visit gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-apply-for-the-zoos-support-fund.
The zoo is still selling vouchers for its various experiences, including the meerkat experience, deadly reptile keeper experience or photography experience. Learn more at exoticzoo.co.uk/.
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