London Zoo pins hope on pounds 21m rescue plan: Rebuilding and emphasis on conservation are part of the new vision at Regent's Park. Steve Connor reports

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The Independent Online
LONDON ZOO yesterday launched an ambitious pounds 21m rescue plan to extricate itself from the financial chaos that nearly led to its closure.

It revealed that two businessmen from London had together pledged more than pounds 1.5m towards the costs of the first phase of a revival package to rebuild the zoo over about 10 years.

The Government has approved the package and says it will open negotiations with the Zoological Society of London, which runs the zoo, to renew the lease for its site in Regent's Park.

Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, has written to Sir John Chapple, president of the society, emphasising that the plan does not call for or depend on financial support from the Government.

'The next stage will be for officials to open detailed discussions on the terms of the lease and the programme of repairs,' Mr Brooke said. There are nine Grade I listed buildings in the zoo, many in need of urgent attention.

Sir John described the Government's position as 'very helpful and supportive' although he said public funds should be made available for the zoo.

He said two anonymous donors had promised to contribute to the zoo's rescue plan. One had promised pounds 500,000 with further money over the next three to four years 'provided we can show it is being properly used'.

The other anonymous donor has pledged pounds 1m towards the cost of rebuilding the children's zoo. Sir John said that money, combined with last year's gift of pounds 1m from the Emir of Kuwait and pounds 350,000 raised from the public, meant the zoo had most of the money it needed to pay for the first phase of redevelopment. 'We've been through some difficult years but we do now have a very good basis not just for survival but revival.'

Jo Gipps, a former curator who became the zoo's new director in January, said the organisation was breaking even and made a small profit last year; the first for 15 years. The zoo had shed 50 jobs - about a quarter of its workforce - and lost between 2,000 and 3,000 animals over the past 18 months. Savings of pounds 1.7m a year on annual costs of pounds 7.5m, he said, 'enables us to be here today'.

The zoo's new philosophy was 'to conserve the natural world by breeding endangered animals and by inspiring commitment to the conservation of wildlife and threatened habitats'.

Phase one of the redevelopment programme will concentrate on:

Redeveloping the children's zoo, with new buildings for educating young people and allowing them to come into contact with animals;

Creating a 'world-class' invertebrate exhibit from the existing Parrot House. Dr Gipps said there were 'some very good invertebrate exhibits in the world, but this will be the best';

Establishing a conservation area dedicated to the endangered wildlife of Madagascar;

Building a carnivore conservation centre for breeding Asiatic lions, Sumatran tigers, Persian leopards and other endangered animals;

Beginning the redevelopment of the Mappin Terraces, which once housed bears but which have been empty of animals for eight years.

Dr Gipps said there was not yet enough money raised to secure the future of the Mappin Terraces: 'It must surely be a symbol of revival if it can be reopened.'

The zoo is negotiating with a private consortium led by David Laing, from the construction firm, to redevelop the Mappin Terraces as an aquarium and cinema complex. Another plan is for London Zoo to use the terraces to house a new gorilla complex where the primates can live in more natural conditions for the zoo to become a leading breeding centre.

(Photograph omitted)