Living Coasts zoo in the town of Torquay in Devon, southwest England, closed its doors to visitors permanently, citing huge financial losses since the nation’s lockdown measures were implemented. The facility is home to hundreds of marine animals including African penguins, macaroni penguins, South American fur seals, and numerous species of sea birds.
Wild Planet Trust, the zoo’s governing body, explained in a Q&A segment on the Living Coasts website that staff may have to consider euthanasia if suitable shelters cannot be found for the animals rendered homeless by the site’s permanent closure.
“In the unlikely event that we cannot find housing that suits their needs, we may need to the make the difficult decision to euthanise,” the Trust explained. “As things stand, we do not anticipate that this is a likely scenario.”
The Torquay site opened in 2003 with a focus on the conservation and protection of marine species. Today, the facility is in need of “substantial maintenance,” which the trust admits is no longer within its financial capabilities. “The next stage is to find homes for the animals,” said officials, “once movement restrictions have been lifted.”
In a statement of assurance to the public, the trust claimed that Living Coasts is “confident that good new homes for the animals will be found,” but that it remains unclear how long this process will take.
“Our priority is the welfare of our animals,” they reiterated.
The Torquay site was originally designed to mimic the natural habitats of its many inhabitants and includes a penguin “beach,” a tropical mangrove swamp, and underwater viewing stations for human visitors.
“Living Coasts is part of a worldwide network of zoos and aquariums and we will be looking for homes for animals within them,” the trust explained. “Most of the animals kept at Living Coasts are marine species that will need specialist facilities. Such places do exist and we already work closely with them.”
Responding to whether the site could simply release its marine animals into the wild, the trust explained that it “may be possible” to release some locally occurring species, subject to veterinary approval and in accordance with IUCN Reintroduction Specialist Group guidelines.
For most livestock bred, born, and hatched at Living Coasts, they stated, release would not be an option as the animals “would not be able to cope with life in the wild.”
Living Coasts’s animal residents are not the only ones affected by the zoo’s sudden closure.
According to the Daily Mail, the Torquay site’s 44 staffers are likely to lose their jobs. Two additional wildlife attractions run by the same authority, Paignton Zoo and Newquay Zoo, are also at risk of having to close their doors for good.
In a June 2020 parliamentary debate, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell voiced concern that many wildlife establishments in the United Kingdom could face permanent closure due to significant financial losses, reports the Mirror. “The reality is we are going to see some of these organizations close permanently if the government doesn’t rethink the extra support they need at this time,” he warned.
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