Zoos’ vital conservation work is being put at risk by a Covid-related funding crisis.
Breeding programmes to rescue rare species may have to be cancelled, with many zoos facing the biggest cash crisis in their history.
The body that represents British zoos says a government rescue package is inaccessible for most of its members.
Only one zoo has claimed successfully, the BBC has learned.
Zoos face huge income losses due to lockdown and reduced visitor numbers. Ultimately, this will impact on their ability to care for species which are the last of their kind on Earth, and now found only in zoos.
“The extinct-in-the-wild species are absolutely dependent on human care,” said Dr John Ewen of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
“It’s our decision about which way to go forward that determines extinction or recovery.”
BBC News has discovered that just one zoo out of around 300 in England has successfully made a claim from a £100m government recovery fund.
The trade body that represents Britain’s zoos and aquariums, Biaza, says the way the government’s bailout fund is structured means it is virtually impossible for most of its members to claim.
They need to be 12 weeks from bankruptcy to qualify and by that time any responsible animal park would already be trying to find new homes for its residents, the association says.
It warns that many international breeding programmes, designed to ensure the survival of rare species, may have to be cancelled and without government help some big UK zoos face closure.
The government says its rescue package was designed to provide a safety net if zoos got into really serious financial difficulties.
Zoos are one of the largest funders of conservation work around the world, particularly large,