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Fota Wildlife Park expecting losses of €3.5 million this year as coronavirus reality bites

Smaller pet farms around the country are feeling the impact already.

Image: FotaWildlifePark

A ZOO IN northern Germany made headlines earlier this week after its director said that some animals might have to be fed to others in order for the zoo to survive. 

The Director of Neumünster Zoo confirmed to local media that they had drawn up a slaughter list but said it is a “worst-case scenario” -  if the delivery of fish and meat was no longer possible, for example. 

Fota Wildlife Park says it has a healthy food stock, and contingency plans in place if food supplies ever run low. This means that none of the animals will be on the menu. 

The Cork-based conservation group – home to a wide variety of animals, from meerkats and macaws to tigers and kangaroos – closed its gates shortly after St Patrick’s Day and has remained shut ever since in line with public health advice. 

The head of the park, Sean McKeown, told TheJournal.ie that if Fota has to stay closed until over the summer, it will lose out on some €3.5 million in income.

“If that’s the case we’ll be borrowing money to keep going like everyone else is doing. It’s hard for us to predict, we may not be open until next year, who knows,” said McKeown. 

“The most frustrating aspect is not knowing. It makes it very difficult for planning.” 

The park is usually open all year round and busiest during the holidays when it runs extra events such as educational weekends, art workshops, and yoga classes.

In a normal year, Fota usually welcomes over 460,00 visitors – with 70,000 of those visiting during the Easter mid-term. 

dkane-27th-may-2019repro-free-pic-darragh-kane Source: DaraghKane/FotaWildlife

dkane-27th-may-2019repro-free-pic-darragh-kane Source: DaraghKane/FotaWildlife

McKeown said a few renovation projects planned around the park have been put on hold for the moment “so funds around that and cash in the bank are keeping us going”. 

“It will have a dramatic effect on our finances, that’s for sure,” said McKeon, adding that a fundraising campaign is in the works if the necessary stay-at-home rules aren’t eased in the coming months.

“We’re also looking at different grants from government agencies, and on a European level, so we’ve plenty of irons in the fire.

It’s sad but everyday life continues. We’re still kept busy caring for and feeding the animals. We still do enrichment a couple of times a day for the animals. Things like the cheetah race still go ahead even when the public is not around.

Fota is a member of The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), which says all of its members have furloughed non-essential staff and are running on reduced operations to provide animal welfare care.

The association says it is working closely with officials so that supports are provided to all its members. 

Fellow BIAZA member, Dublin Zoo, says its priority at this time is the wellbeing of its animals and the health and safety of staff.

“Our teams are working hard to look after the animals and keep their routines as normal as possible while the zoo is closed,” a spokesperson for Dublin Zoo said.

‘We can write this year off’

90631928_10157992886943744_1644956552924233728_o Some new arrivals on Glendear Pet Farm, Co Roscommon. Source: GlendearPetFarm/Facebook

The country’s open farms and petting zoos should have also benefited from the sunny Easter holidays, and many of them are already feeling the financial pressure. 

Glendeer Pet Farm in Athlone, Co Roscommon was due to open for the season when the first stay-at-home restrictions were announced.

Manager Kevina O’Connell said missing out on the farm’s busiest time of year is a “huge loss, particularly as the farm’s overheads haven’t gone away.

“This needs to be done and everyone needs to do their best but I guess Easter is a great kickstart to our season, it’s two weeks of parents looking for things to do with the kids.

“Some people are able to get a bit of leeway with different things but generally our expenses, they’re still there. We would still have some staff feeding animals, so we need to have our insurance in place and things like that.”

Glendear farm is home to some 50 different species, so there are quite a few mouths to feed.  

“We are concerned about what will happen in the long run, we’ll keep going as long as we can. There are supports out there from the likes of Fáilte Ireland and the local enterprise offices, so there are grants available,” said O’Connell. 

“Myself and my sister are employed there and we’re lucky to be able to get a subsidy. We could forfeit our wages if needs be down the line but you know we have a family to look after so it’s very hard to know but we’ll do what we can to keep anyway”. 

For Padraig O’Donohoe who runs the Kia Ora Mini Farm in Gorey, Co Wexford, the financial pressure since closing has been “unbelievable”.

He told TheJournal.ie that Kia Ora’s insurance is up for renewal at the end of the month, and “they aren’t playing ball”. 

Some relief has come from his suppliers who he says have been “extremely understanding” of the situation, but the uncertainty of when the farm will reopen still looms. 

“My suppliers couldn’t be any better. They know who I am, that I depend on the public and the money coming in is completely gone at the minute,” O’Donohoe said. 

“It will be hard to get back and open because the money is not there for me to kind of keep the place maintained.

“Opening back up, I won’t be where I wanted to be, even doing the basics stuff like painting fences. I can’t do it because I can’t buy the paint.” 

67354480_2137450709714731_753457883579940864_n Source: Castle Adventure Open Farm/Facebook

Likewise in Donegal, Castle Adventure Open Farm has cancelled all of its upcoming events which keep them afloat financially during the winter months. 

Another big hit they’re expecting to take is the cancellation of school tours, with many already having done so. 

“Schools tours would be our main trade into July, so we’re praying for things to be normal by July and August really,” manager Edel Carthy said. 

“Obviously every day you’re not open to the public there are still expenses, but it’s for the best, all we can do is to keep everything as low-cost as we can.” 

Carthy said the animals are “treated like family”, so even if the farm didn’t reopen, they’d be kept as pets. 

“I think we can write this year off and hope that next year will be a better one.”

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Adam Daly

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