Zoo bosses' delight as government steps in to fund vital work

The Zoological Society of East Anglia has scooped a £752k grant from government

Africa Alive and Banham Zoo bosses say they will sleep easier at night after the zoos scooped a major government grant - Credit: Zoological Society of East Anglia

Zoos in East Anglia have been thrown a £752,000 lifeline to help towards the cost of caring for its animals during the coronavirus crisis.

The Zoological Society of East Anglia - which runs Africa Alive in Lowestoft and Banham Zoo near Diss - has scooped a Zoo Animals Fund grant dished out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

But bosses warned  the zoos still face a "very hard" 18 months ahead after three lockdowns and no visitor income coming in. It estimates its weekly costs to care for the animals are £25,000.

The grant is split into £498,000 to cover animal care costs from January to the end of March 2021 and £254,000 for urgent repairs on animal enclosures.

The animal care grant helps cover food and bedding costs and zoo keepers', animal curators' and veterinary staff wages.

Repairs will be made to fence posts on the tiger enclosure at Banham Zoo

Tiger fence posts at Banham Zoo are among the jobs to get attention thanks to a government grant - Credit: Zoological Society of East Anglia

The urgent repairs grant will go towards 12 projects including the Meerkat Enclosure and Lemur Island House at Africa Alive and Siamang Enclosure and tiger fence posts at Banham Zoo.

The zoos' joint boss Claudia Roberts offered a "huge thank you" to the DEFRA team and to government for "this lifeline".

Claudia Roberts, joint managing director of the Zoological Society of East Anglia which runs Banham and Africa Alive zoos

While the grant the zoos have received is very welcome, they haven't won the lottery, said Banham and Africa Alive zoos boss Claudia Roberts - Credit: Zoological Society of East Anglia

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“We can definitely sleep a little easier at night now that we can recoup some of our lost income, but we haven’t won the lottery in any sense and our public fundraising will continue," she said. 

"We lost £1.5 million of income during the first lockdown in 2020 and it’s going to be a very hard 18 months ahead. While we are delighted to have an estimated opening date of April 12, we have had no income since the start of 2021, so we still need to remain extremely vigilant in keeping our costs at the very minimum."

And MPs welcomed the announcement. South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss said she was "delighted", while Waveney MP Peter Aldous said it was "very good news".

Africa Alive plays a "vitally important role" in the local community, in wildlife conservation, providing jobs and as a major tourist attraction, said Mr Aldous.

"The park also provides local people with the opportunity to walk and relax in special and unique surroundings and to gain some peace of mind, which is so important at this time, and hopefully it will not be too long before they are able to re-open,” he said.

Ms Truss said the cash would help maintain "the excellent work" being done by staff at both zoos.

A spokesman from BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said: "We are delighted Africa Alive and Banham Zoo have received the help they need for animal care over the next few months. We want as many zoos as possible to get the help they need in these extraordinary times. Zoos have an important role in conservation, education and science, we cannot afford to lose them."

On an average summer's day the two zoos between would normally expect to welcome around 2,000 visitors. During lockdowns a skeleton staff has looked after the animals and the zoos.

Africa Alive and Banham Zoo have launched an emergency fundraising site to help them keep going during the crisis. 

Earlier this year,  the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) expressed serious concerns that zoos would be left without support at the end of the financial year. 

The government announced a four-week extension to the  Zoo Animals Fund to 26 February 26 after the zoos organisation complained that only some of the 300 zoo licence holders in England benefited.