The federal government has announced much-needed funding for Australia’s zoos and aquariums to help them get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Announced in a join statement from the Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Tourism and Minister for the Environment, the $94.6 million fund aims to assist exhibiting zoos and aquariums with operational costs and to help them bounce back once COVID-19 restrictions ease.
Minister for Tourism Simon Birmingham said Australians should not underestimate the huge positive flow-on effects the country’s zoos and aquariums provide to the economy.
“This will be a lifeline for these popular tourism attractions across Australia who have had many of their revenue streams dry up during this crisis,” he said.
“It’s absolutely crucial our iconic zoos and aquariums can still operate on the other side and play a major role in helping our tourism industry to recover from this.
“We know our world-class zoos and aquariums are major tourism drawcards for many of our major cities and regional centres across Australia, with over 20 million visitors walking through the gates each year.”
According to Zoos SA, the not-for-profit conservation charity that looks after Australia’s second oldest zoo, Adelaide Zoo, and Monarto Safari Park – the country’s largest open-range zoo – the funding would ensure it can continue to look after animal welfare and ongoing conservation work.
“The announcement of the federal funding for zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and aquariums is an absolute lifeline,” Zoos SA chief executive Elaine Bensted told Travel Weekly.
“The joint announcement … acknowledges the vital role that zoos and wildlife parks play in both tourism and conservation.”
The funding will help to offset some of Zoos SA’s major costs, including the $90,000 spent every month to feed its animals and the additional $60,000 spent on utilities, the not-for-profit said.
Zoos SA said it had been fortunate to receive JobKeeper funding, which would help to retain its staff, but many of the country’s zoos, wildlife organisations and aquariums did not have the same safety net.
For them, this funding comes as a lifeline, and a huge and vital relief.
Merlin Entertainment, which owns SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium and WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, said it had been busy preparing to reopen its facilities across Australia when it received news of the funding.
“The support the government has provided … to assist in sustaining the welfare of these animals whilst we have no other income streams due to closure is therefore welcomed by the whole industry,” Merlin Entertainment APAC divisional director Rob Smith told Travel Weekly.
“As a wider business and across all of our attractions in Australia and New Zealand, we are very conscious that if we cannot reopen soon, we forecast significant constraints in our ability to manage our business and renew our contribution to the economy.”
In terms of costs, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium spends more than $500,000 per annum to feed its animals, and at least $100,000 per annum on vet costs.
Moreover, the 4.65 million litres of water on site, home to more than 3,000 animals, is treated by specialist life support systems more than 12 times per day – double the standard rate for an Olympic swimming pool.
The Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) said the $94.6 million of funding was an important social investment in supporting animal welfare and a clear direct business and destination attraction investment.
“ATIC welcomes the federal government’s recognition that for regional tourism, in particular, to again generate green shoots, let alone move down a pathway of both sustainable and greater growth over time, that our zoos and aquariums need to continue to exist to play an important role in future visitor attraction,” executive director Simon Westaway said.
Simon Spellicy, chair of the NSW Tourism Industry Council, said many tourism operators exhibiting animals suffered tremendous financial losses as a result of Australia’s recent and devastating bushfire season, and had now been hit doubly with the impacts of COVID -19.
“We know how hard the tourism industry is suffering, particularly in NSW which is the gateway to Australia for many international visitors,” he said.
“The NSW Tourism Industry Council strongly encourages businesses to apply for these grants to assist with their operational costs at a time when visitation is not possible.”
It comes at the same time as the establishment of the ‘Tourism Restart Taskforce’, which will provide advice to industry and government on the short, medium and long-term priorities to rebuild tourism in Australia.
The lifeline package for zoos forms part of the government’s $1 billion ‘Relief and Recovery Fund’ to support regions, communities and industry sectors that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Featured image credit: iStock.com/AzmanJaka