Government funding vital to ensuring Fota Wildlife Park remains open beyond March 2021

Government funding vital to ensuring Fota Wildlife Park remains open beyond March 2021

The director of Fota Wildlife Park has said the park could be facing closure in the spring of next year if outside funding is not forthcoming. Picture Darragh Kane

Fota Wildlife Park has said outside funding is imperative to ensuring the Park remains open beyond March 2021.

In a statement issued today, the Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD said that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is considering options which will offer short term financial support to help Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park during their current financial difficulties. 

He added that he is "confident" this short term financial support will be provided to the two organisations.

Fota Wildlife Park, due to its large size and location, was in a position to reopen to the public on May 20 and has been able to remain open since, albeit with strict limits on visitor numbers, pre-booking online only and designated timeslots to arrive.

In a statement issued today, the Wildlife Park said the overall impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has meant a loss of 20% in visitor numbers and income for 2020.

Sean McKeown, Director of Fota Wildlife Park, said there are sufficient funds there to keep the Park open until March 2021, but expressed concerns about the future beyond that.

Sean McKeown, Director of Fota Wildlife Park. Picture: Denis Minihane
Sean McKeown, Director of Fota Wildlife Park. Picture: Denis Minihane

“During the summer period we have had tremendous support from the public, through visits, donations and sponsorships and from those who became annual pass holders and who patiently support us now during the 5 kilometre travel restriction,” he said.

“We’re currently open and still delivering educational classes under strict new Covid-19 protocols and we thank the schools and colleges who have continued to support us during this time.

“However if the current situation prevails with limitations on travelling into early March 2021, and without outside support, Fota Wildlife Park will also see itself faced with the possibility of closure by March 2021,” he said.

Mr McKeown’s comments came in the wake of a fundraising campaign launched by Dublin Zoo earlier today.

The zoo warned that it may be forced to close its gates to the public due to ongoing financial losses due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Animal care at the zoo costs in the region of €500,000 per month and emergency cash reserves are starting to run out.

Although Dublin Zoo is currently closed to the public because of Covid-19 restrictions, the dedicated animal care team is still providing care to over 400 animals “which will always be the top priority”.

The 'Save Dublin Zoo' fundraising campaign has been launched today to help cover the cost of animal care.

Speaking on the launch of the Save Dublin Zoo fundraising campaign director of Dublin Zoo, Dr Christoph Schwitzer said: 

“We understand this is a challenging time for everyone, so we are asking people to only give what they can — every donation counts no matter the size.

“We have relied on our emergency cash reserves to remain open when allowed, but even then, visitor number restrictions due to social distancing have made it near impossible to generate enough revenue to just break even.

“Without financial support, we are facing an uncertain future and may have to close.” 

The State does not ordinarily provide funding to the zoo sector, however, due to the impacts of Covid-19, short term funding now looks set to be provided.

“I met some weeks ago with the directors of Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park as well as the director of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) to assess the scale of the challenges faced by our zoos and aquariums and what funding was required.

“This followed on from extensive engagement over the summer months by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“To that end, I am confident that our Department will be able to offer short term financial support to help tide the two main zoos past this immediate challenge," commented Minister Noonan.

Minister O’Brien said as a Dublin TD, the zoo has been “a highlight” for his family for many years.

 Cormac Kenny feeding the Giraffes at Fota Wildlife Park, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Cormac Kenny feeding the Giraffes at Fota Wildlife Park, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

“The Department is currently working on a short term support package which will assist these organisations,” he confirmed.

Cork Senator Tim Lombard welcomed this commitment.

“I very much welcome the commitment this afternoon to provide funding to help with the running costs and upkeep of Fota Wildlife Park.

“The much-loved conservation facility is an integral part in the fabric of life here in Cork, attracting thousands of visitors from all over Ireland every year. 

“It is the second largest visitor attraction in the country outside of Leinster.

“While visitor numbers may be greatly reduced this year due to Covid restrictions, the resident animals still need to be fed and cared for - the running costs remain the same,” he said.

“Fota plays a vital role in wildlife conservation, education and research and is completely self-financing.

“With admissions down, it is extremely welcome that the Government will step in to help with the maintenance costs of this fantastic facility.

“I am calling for this funding to be made available as a matter of urgency,” Senator Lombard continued.

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