Zoos given a lifeline to survive pandemic

Zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums across the country will be given a $95 million rescue package to help feed and care for their cute and cuddly residents during the coronavirus lockdown.

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham announced the support package to support more than 100 attractions around Australia that have struggled to care for their animals during the COVID-19 crisis.

Social-distancing measures has resulted in most operators closing their doors since mid-March, meaning any money made from visitations to help care for animals has almost dried up.

Zoos struggling to care for animals while doors remained closed will share in a $95 million government package. Picture: Jason EdwardsSource:News Corp Australia

The rescue package will be used for care, maintenance, food and veterinary bills of animals in more than 100 exhibiting zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums.

Senator Birmingham said the funds would provide critical support to the attractions, which play a pivotal role in Australia’s tourism sector.

“We know our world-class zoos and aquariums are major tourism drawcards for many (of) our major cities and regional centres across Australia, with over 20 million visitors walking through the gates each year,” Senator Birmingham said.

“We also shouldn’t underestimate the huge positive flow-on effects our zoos and aquariums provide to our economy. They bring thousands of visitors into communities who then spend millions of dollars visiting other attractions, sleeping in our hotels and dining in our restaurants.”

The rescue package will be used to cover veterinary bills, care and food for animals in more than 100 zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums. Picture: Justin Lloyd.Source:News Corp Australia

While veterinary bills and ground maintenance are costly, the amount of food consumed by the animals is what really adds up.

A single lion, for example, eats around $13,000 worth of red meat a year, while elephants inhale almost $100,000 worth of hay each year.

But according to Chad Staples, director of Sydney’s Featherdale Wildlife Park, the smaller animals tend to rack up hefty dinner bills.

Rocky the Crocodile at the Sydney Wildlife Zoo is a popular attraction for tourists. Picture: Gaye Gerard/ Daily Telegraph.Source:News Corp Australia

“When you start talking about some of the birds that eat seafood … and the fact that they can eat almost more than their body weight a day, they can in relative terms be some of the most expensive to keep,” Mr Staples told the ABC.

“A little penguin can eat 10 to a dozen sardines a day. And those things add up very quickly when you’ve got a colony of 15 birds and you’re importing the best quality fish from Western Australia.”

Penguins, like this little guy at Melbourne Zoo, have an expensive palate. Picture: AAP Image/David Crosling.Source:AAP

Earlier this year, the popular Mogo Wildlife Park on the New South Wales south coast was forced to close and protect hundreds of animals as bushfires ripped through the region.

Mogo was evacuated but staff stayed on at the zoo and enacted their fire plan. Aside from a few damaged fences, the park was largely unscathed, and all animals were kept safe.

Less than a month after reopening in late February, the facility was hit by the COVID-19 crisis and forced the zoo to close again. It is believed it will take between three and five years for the zoo to be at the same financial position.

Mogo Zoo director Chad Staples puts out spot fires earlier this year. He says it may take up to five years for the zoo’s finances to recover. Picture: John GraingerSource:News Corp Australia

Phoenix the lion cub at Mogo Zoo will benefit from the financial package. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Mr Staples, who also runs the Mogo Wildlife Park, said the funding would be a “game changer” and a great step to getting the park back on its feet.

“Zoos and wildlife parks are such an important place in communities,” he told Channel 9’s Today show.

“This is not only just for us, but this is a real step forward for everyone getting back to a bit of normality to now know the animals they love and cherish here in wildlife parks around the country are protected.”

Zookeepers say the funding will be a huge help in keeping the attractions open. Picture: Toby ZernaSource:News Corp Australia

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the funding was crucial for not only the tourism sector but for the zookeepers, aquarium owners and veterinarians who played a crucial role in wildlife recovery and caring for the animals.

“This is critical funding to support the welfare of those animals along with the vital ongoing role zoos play in conserving our environment and protecting native species,” she told the Adelaide Advertiser.

“Twenty million people visit zoos every year,” she added.

“They’re vital for international tourism as well. We’re right here for them with this package. It’s important.”

The funding is part of the Government’s $1 billion COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund.

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