The Government will intervene to support Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park in Co Cork as they struggle financially during the pandemic, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told the Dáil.
Dublin Zoo said it is facing an existential threat and could be forced to close its gates for good if it does not find a way to plug an almost €10 million hole in its finances caused by Covid-19.
Losing out on of millions of euros of income over the last eight months, one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country is still spending €500,000 a month on feeding and caring for the animals under its care.
Yesterday morning, it launched a Save Dublin Zoo fundraising programme, which it hopes will help to keep it open. It warned that its emergency cash reserves, built up over a decade of growth, are beginning to run out and, without support, it may have to make the difficult decision to close its gates to the public.
However, within five hours of making its plea, the zoo had raised more than €1 million from the general public, the organisation saying it was “lost for words”in a post on its social media accounts on Wednesday afternoon.
The zoo remains closed because of current Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, but its dedicated animal care team is still providing care to more than 400 animals.
"We are struggling financially and without support – concerned that we don't have sufficient reserves to get through the winter and may even have to close to the public. That's why we're asking the Irish public for help," the newly installed director of Dublin Zoo Dr Christoph Schwitzer said.
"In normal times it costs about a million a month to run Dublin Zoo. We've tried to make any cost savings possible during the pandemic and we have achieved that, but there are limits. You can't furlough an elephant, you can't switch off a zoo at night when you go home," he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme.
“We haven’t gotten any statutory funding from the Government in the past 15 years. We’re very proud to be able to stand on our own two feet, due to the support of our visitors..”
In the Dáil on Wednesday, Mr Martin said the Government “will do everything we possibly can to ensure Dublin Zoo stays open and I will be working with Ministers to make sure that happens”.
He said: “In my view, given the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic, a once-in-a-hundred-year event, the Government has to intervene here and the Government has to work with Dublin Zoo to make sure it is available for generations to come.”
Mr Martin said it was some time since capital funding has been allocated to the zoo by government.
People are being asked to make donations at DublinZoo.ieor to host a fundraising event.