Visitors help win reprieve for London Zoo

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The Independent Online
LONDON ZOO is safe for the foreseeable future and will not close as planned at the end of the month, Sir John Chapple, president of the zoo's parent body, said yesterday. Extra revenue has guaranteed the zoo's survival until April 1994, by which time it hopes to have a long-term rescue package in place, he said.

The announcement came after a meeting of the ruling council of the Zoological Society of London, called to review its June decision to close the zoo. 'We've secured at least the short-term financial position,' Sir John said. 'What we've now got is a high degree of confidence that we could operate in an interim period until we've got a plan in place.'

Extra ticket sales from an increase in visitors since the June closure announcement has brought in additional revenue of pounds 500,000 'despite the recession and despite the patchy weather', Sir John said. Publicity about the closure helped, he added.

With the 'extra breathing space' of the pounds 1m gift from the Emir of Kuwait and a further pounds 330,000 raised from the Save Our Zoo campaign, the zoo will break even this financial year.

However, the zoo's running costs are still pounds 7.4m a year and an estimated pounds 15m is needed to repair its dilapidated buildings.

Sir John emphasised that there is 'still a long way to go' to turn the zoo's survival into a permanent reality. He said that yesterday's decision means the zoo will survive but there is now work to be done to ensure the survival is 'sustainable'. A long-term plan will be chosen from several options before the council, he said.

The three leading plans to save the zoo are:

An in-house rescue package formulated by the zoo's management more than a year ago.

A staff plan with a strong emphasis on running the zoo as a centre for animal conservation.

An expensive outside bid from a consortium led by David Laing, of the construction family.

Sir John also had discussions last week with David Mellor, Secretary of State for National Heritage, about possible government funding for a new-look zoo.

'He's very supportive with what we are trying to do on our own.' Although the Government has said it will not give the zoo any more money 'in its present form', Sir John indicated that this position might change if a new plan for the zoo looked sustainable.

David Bellamy, the botanist, who said it was 'good news indeed', congratulated all those who had visited the zoo this summer and sent money to the campaign. He added: 'Please continue your support. The zoo must never close, for the sake of many thousands of animals whose future lies in the captive breeding programmes of endangered species in London Zoo and others like it around the world.'

Colin Tudge, a scientific fellow of the Zoological Society who has campaigned for the closure decision to be overturned, said it was 'marvellous news' that the zoo will now remain open. 'Closure is no longer on the agenda. We now have enough money to underwrite the place at least until the end of the next summer season.'

Ronel Lehmann, a spokesman for the Laing consortium, said: 'It's a timely decision made in a responsible fashion. It's the right thing to happen at this stage.'

The decision does not end the uncertainty for the 21 members of the zoo's council. The results of a postal vote of the society's 2,000 members on a motion of no-confidence in the council will be announced next Monday.

Mr Tudge said that if the no- confidence vote is passed, many council members will be forced to resign. An annual general meeting of the society scheduled for the end of the month would then see new elections.

Photograph, page 2