Fears for local zoo animals during COVID-19 crisis

 

IT'S the global health crisis facing all creatures, great and small.

As the world death toll of the coronavirus pandemic soars past 150,000 people, captive animals are also in harm's way during a shutdown which has robbed zoos and aquariums of virtually all revenue streams while still facing massive care bills.

There are fears animal conservation efforts for some of our most beloved species' could be set back years as local animal exhibitors try desperately to avoid the sort of distressing scenes taking place overseas where some zoo animals are being killed and fed to others.

Queensland's 144 licensed animal exhibitors are in talks with the State Government about critical support as they face months of uncertainty.

Volunteer Keeper Katy Cole with Arlo the Koala, Wallaby joey Sansa and Charlie the Cockatoo at Wildlife HQ on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: Lachie Millard
Volunteer Keeper Katy Cole with Arlo the Koala, Wallaby joey Sansa and Charlie the Cockatoo at Wildlife HQ on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: Lachie Millard

Former Queensland Zoo and Aquarium Association president Al Mucci said the industry attracted seven million tourists to the state a year and also played a crucial role in conservation efforts that were now under threat.

"If even 20 per cent of Queensland's zoos were forced to close down that would be catastrophic, not just for the animals affected, but also in a broader sense for the role in conservation and breeding that some of these places play," he said.

On the Sunshine Coast, Wildlife HQ is continuing to care for its animals with the help of volunteers and generous community donations.

CEO Jarrod Schenk said the industry was not in a position to simply turn off the lights and access jobkeeper programs.

"We aren't the kind of business that can just go in to hibernation," he said.

"Some of our staff are already volunteering and we can't just cut down on costs.

"We can't just turn our back on the animals."

World Animal Protection, an organisation often at loggerheads with theme parks housing captive animals, has also sought assurances from the State Government about how animals would be cared for as the shutdown drags on.

Ben Pearson, the group's head of campaigns for Australia and New Zealand, called on the State government to provide urgent assistance.

"We don't want animals to be the ones that suffer because of a human-caused crisis," he said.

Queensland Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner said the state's zoos and animal exhibitors were 'an important priority' for the State Government.

"Some of these businesses are iconic in Queensland and on the global stage, and hold a special place in the hearts of Queenslanders and visitors alike," he said.

"Biosecurity Queensland is aware that exhibitors have concerns about meeting ongoing costs including animal feed, veterinary services and operational maintenance."

He did not rule out providing future assistance beyond the support packages already announced for Queensland businesses.

Originally published as Fears for local zoo animals during COVID-19 crisis

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