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Welsh Mountain Zoo may have to put animals down as ‘time running out’ to save it

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Around 750 animals live at the Welsh Mountain Zoo, which has welcomed more than eight million visitors since its gates swung open for the first time in 1963.

Zoos and safari parks in England can open from tomorrow but in Wales they must remain shut.

With running costs of £118,000, this north Wales institution is in a battle for survival.

If the zoo is forced to close permanently, staff would scramble to find new homes for the animals but, once these options have been exhausted, the possibility that some may have to be put down has not been completely ruled out.

Jen Jesse, the zoo’s director of operations, said: “We are continuing to fight with all our might to avoid closing and to avoid this fate for any of our animals. The sad reality is, if we have to close permanently, it will be desperate times for both our animals and our staff and a sad day for our wonderful supporters.”

Unlike in England, the Labour Welsh Government has not introduced a dedicated support scheme for zoos.

The zoo, which overlooks Colwyn Bay, had expected an income of £499,000 in April and May – and the recent good weather means in normal times they would have hoped to do even better. But the pandemic has triggered a financial disaster.

Ms Jesse said: “From the moment we were obliged to close the zoo from March 22 in response to the national lockdown, all our charity’s income ceased. The zoo is now haemorrhaging funds from our reserves and without external funding support and the ability to reopen soon our very survival, and that of our animals, is threatened.

“Our normal charity reserves fund gives us emergency running costs of approximately three months, so time is running out for us.”

Seventeen members of staff were furloughed but keepers are needed to feed the animals and ensure they are warm and healthy.

The zoo faces the further challenge this summer of paying contractors the final £500,000 for a new snow leopard facility.

The Welsh Government has provided an £85,000 grant and a public appeal has raised more than £160,000, but the team are pushing for a dedicated support scheme and want permission to open the gates as soon as possible.

Warning of “dire consequences”, Ms Jesse said: “Although we are normally open all year round, our business is very seasonal and we depend on summer visitors to see us through the long winter of high expenditure with little income. The summer season is now rapidly running away from us.”

Former Welsh Secretary and Clwyd West Conservative MP David Jones said: “The zoo is much loved by the people of Colwyn Bay and is an important part of the North Wales tourism offering. If it were to close, not only would we lose an important tourist asset, but we would face the appalling prospect of seeing the zoo’s stock of animals put down.

“The Welsh Government must urgently put in place a zoo support scheme such as that adopted by Defra in England. This is the Welsh National Zoo, and it would be shameful if [the Welsh Government] were to preside over its closure.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “From the outset we have been in contact with all licenced animal attractions in Wales, and provided details of the existing schemes from which they could apply for funding, including our £500m economic resilience fund (ERF), which is unique to Wales.

“Through our ERF, animal attractions have been able to access a more generous package of support to help them with animal welfare issues and their economic viability than they would have had through a sector specific scheme. The ERF was up and running in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic with Welsh animal attractions being able to apply for support through it far quicker than awaiting the development of a sector specific fund in Wales and weeks before England announced their zoo fund on May 4.”

On the continuing closure of zoos in Wales, he said: “Ministers review all the restrictions in place at each review period – and then decide what, if anything, can be changed. Changes will only be made when it is safe to do so. Our focus is on helping to save lives.”



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