London Zoo says it could be forced to close permanently because the coronavirus crisis is costing it around £2.3million every month.
The zoo has already furloughed 280 staff but needs a cash injection of £25million to stay afloat as it faces the worst crisis in its history.
Dominic Jermey, director general of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), has warned that, despite the remainder of workers also agreeing a 20 per cent pay cut, its reserves will soon run out.
This could put the zoo’s world-renowned collection of more than 20,000 animals at risk and jeopardise ZSL’s conservation research into protecting endangered species.
Mr Jermey told the Daily Mail that in May the zoo expects to spend £2.3million – but had ‘almost no’ income.
One generous benefactor has donated £500,000. ZSL also runs Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire.
Approaches for a bank loan have ‘not succeeded’ although the zoo continues to ask the Government to treat it as a unique case.
Mr Jermey, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, has now launched an appeal – at zsl.org/support-our-zoos.
‘The impact of Covid-19 means ZSL – whose income relies on zoo visitors – finds itself in an unthinkable position.
With its zoos shut to the public, the future of this iconic national institution, with all its science and global conservation, hangs in the balance.
‘You can’t simply mothball a zoo and furlough all the staff to save money – our 20,200 giraffes, tigers, lions, meerkats, penguins and other animals need us as much today as any other day.
‘Fighting the illegal wildlife trade across Africa and Asia, a likely cause of this pandemic, can’t just stop.’
He added: ‘Following complex negotiations with the bank, they told us they were unable to provide the kind of major loan we need, even under the Government’s coronavirus schemes.
‘This is because, as a responsibly run charity investing in conservation, we do not generate the cash required to pay off bank debt. Conversations with the bank continue; they want to help.
‘Ironically, ZSL entered this crisis with no debt and decent reserves. Without income, those reserves are dwindling and we now desperately need a significant injection of cash.
‘Many assume a venerable institution like ZSL London Zoo receives regular Government funding in the same way Kew Gardens and the Natural History Museum do.
‘But that is not the case – ZSL’s world-leading science and conservation work is underpinned by the money we earn.’
The zoo closed on March 21 for the first time since the Second World War. It first opened to the public in 1847.