Future of zoo in doubt despite 1m pounds gift

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The Independent Online
THE EMIR of Kuwait's pounds 1m donation to London Zoo gave no guarantee that it would stay open after September, Sir John Chapple, president of the Zoological Society of London, told a stormy meeting yesterday.

But the Emir's 'magnificent gift' did provide a short breathing space in which options for keeping the loss-making zoo open beyond this autumn would be reassessed, he told members - known as fellows - at the society's Regent's Park headquarters.

Sir John and other leading council officers rejected calls from some fellows at the meeting for their resignation. At a second fellows' meeting at the end of this month there will be a formal vote on whether all council members and management 'responsible for the management of the society's affairs in the year leading to this decision (for closure) should resign at once'. Both the society, which runs London and Whipsnade zoos, and the Kuwaiti embassy rejected a suggestion by one council member, reported in yesterday's Independent, that the Emir might withdraw his donation if the autumn closure went ahead. 'There are no strings attached - the money is there for the society to spend in whatever way most helps to save the zoo,' said a spokesman for the ambassador.

Sir John, a retired field marshal, said the zoo was not bankrupt; there were still modest reserves left. But last month the council decided that because it was continuing to trade at a loss it would have to shut permanently at the end of September, with enough cash to organise an orderly closure and dispersal of its animal collection.

Many fellows believe that the Emir's gift, combined with pounds 330,000 of public donations last year, is enough to keep the zoo open through one more winter into the 1993 peak visitor season, allowing time to mount a rescue capable of attracting private-sector sponsorship.

But the council says it has only until the end of August. The Emir's donation, announced days after the closure decision, has already delayed letters giving three months' notice to staff.

The motion calling for management and the council to resign comes from the reform group of dissident fellows. One member, Colin Tudge, said: 'The zoo could keep going into 1994 with the reserves and donations it has.

'We need to use that time to get our visitor numbers back up to 1.1 million a year and transform the zoo's image. We need to show it is a centre for serious wildlife conservation work, not just a good day out.'

The Government yesterday reaffirmed it would put no more money into the zoo, despite a warning in the Commons by Peter Hardy, a member of the council of the Zoological Society, that 'unless substantial public funding and a guarantee is provided the zoo will inevitably close'. Mr Hardy, the Labour MP for Wentworth, cited the obligations John Major had entered into in signing the biodiversity treaty at the Rio Earth Summit.

However, Robert Key, Under-Secretary for National Heritage, said the society had been told that no more money could be given to the zoo, though the Government was prepared to relieve the society of some of its obligations as leaseholder of the Regent's Park site. The lease expires in two years.