Only a fraction of a £100 million fund to support zoos through the pandemic has been successfully claimed, the industry has warned.
The Environment Department (Defra) has announced a four-week extension to the deadline for applications of the zoo animals fund to February 26, but the sector warns some organisations face closing down in the next year.
The fund opened in August to support zoos and aquariums which need extra support in caring for animals following a drop of income caused by Covid-19 lockdowns.
But while the extension has been welcomed by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Biaza), it warned there were serious concerns zoos would be left with no support at the end of the financial year.
Only 28 zoos out of more than 300 licence holders in England have benefited from the fund, with just 5% of the money handed out, according to the industry body.
Zoos must have larger reserves than other organisations so that in the event of closure they can move their animals to new homes, a process that can take months if not years – and possibly longer still because of Brexit, Biaza said.
Zoos, aquariums and safari parks have lost millions of pounds in the past year as a result of having to close their doors to visitors during lockdown – cash which they use to fund conservation work and care for their animals.
Because of the restrictions of the zoo animals fund, the industry fears £95 million of the promised support will not find its way to where it is needed.
A survey by Biaza has found that 70% of those who responded felt they were excluded from the fund, but 80% said it could help them survive if they could successfully access its funding.
At least 24 of its members warn they face permanent closure over the next 12 months.
Dr Cerian Tatchley, joint acting director of Biaza said: “We know that Defra teams are working hard to get help to zoos, aquariums and safari parks, and we share much relief the scheme will be extended again.
“Yet we cannot allow just 5% of support to be delivered, at a time all zoos desperately need help.”
“Help is needed for the months of the pandemic ahead not just four weeks.”
Dr Sharon Redrobe, chief executive of Twycross Zoo, Leicestershire, said: “Like so many, the Zoo Animals Fund has failed to support Twycross Zoo, while we have lost millions of pounds in income.
“I cannot fathom why, with £95 million unspent and the pandemic still raging, Government will not commit to replacing the scheme with one that helps all zoos.”
Announcing the extension to the deadline, Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “I recognise that this has been an extremely tough time for the sector, and I would like to extend my thanks to all of those who have worked so hard in recent months to maintain animal welfare.
“We remain committed to ensuring the sector can deliver the best possible care for its animals.”
The fund gives Government grants of up to £730,000 to pay for animal welfare-related costs and essential maintenance, and also offers grants to support rehoming costs in the event zoos need to downsize or close.