Living Coasts in the town of Torquay in Devon, southwest England, houses a range of marine animals including African penguins, macaroni penguins, South American fur seals, sea ducks, ruffs, and terns; all have been rendered homeless by the permanent closure of the attraction as of June 2020.
According to the Mirror, the zoo’s 44 employees are also likely to lose their jobs. Staff at Paignton Zoo and Newquay Zoo, two additional attractions run by the same authority, Wild Planet Trust, are also at risk of closure.
The Trust made the regretful announcement on the Living Coasts website. “Falling visitor numbers and the forced closure of all [Living Coasts] zoos due to COVID-19 has meant that [the Torquay site] has had to look at its cost base and make efficiencies,” they stated.
“After nearly twenty years of operation, the site also needed substantial maintenance that the Trust is no longer in a position to afford,” they added. “The next stage is to find homes for the animals … once movement restrictions have been lifted.”
The Torquay site, a marine conservation program and zoo attraction which opened in 2003, has been designed to mimic its marine inhabitants’ wild habitats. The site includes a penguin “beach,” a tropical mangrove swamp, and underwater viewing areas for visitors.
Moving the site’s hundreds of inhabitants will be no simple feat, as all of the animals will require specialist facilities. Living Coasts is part of a worldwide network of zoos and aquariums. However the Living Coasts website stated its intention to relocate the animals to another site, or sites, within this network.
“Our priority is the welfare of our animals,” they said.
In the event that suitable shelter cannot be found, the Trust was upfront about the fact that their staff may need to consider euthanasia as an appropriate measure but stressed that it does not anticipate this being likely.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) voiced its concerns in a statement to the Independent, claiming that Living Coasts’s closure is a “huge blow” to the conservation community.
Though, some animal welfare activists have offered a different perspective.
Sam Threadgill, director of campaigning for the charity Freedom for Animals, speculated that the zoo’s closure could be a win for lobbies against keeping animals in captivity. “Let us hope that the closure of Living Coasts is the first step towards a complete phasing out of zoos,” he said.
Threadgill says he hopes for a “transition to a society where animals are not ‘exhibits’ to be held captive and gawped at, but fellow inhabitants of the earth who are respected and conserved in their natural habitats.”
A number of UK tourist sites, including London Zoo, Chester Zoo, and Longleat Safari Park, reopened to visitors on June 15 with social distancing restrictions in place. Yet for Living Coasts in Torquay, the doors remain closed.
“Living Coasts is confident that good new homes for the animals will be found,” Wild Planet Trust states, “but at present it is unclear how long this process may take.”
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