Czech zoos facing existential problems despite enthusiastic public support

Zoo Zlín, photo: Roman Verner / Czech Radio

Czech zoos have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus restrictions, leaving them without visitors and unable to pay for upkeep. Some zoo directors have said that this may lead to animals having to be put down or sent to other European zoos. Public support and inventiveness is helping alleviate the crisis, but the question remains whether it will be enough.

Under normal circumstances, Czech zoos are visited by seven million people every year. However, during the coronavirus epidemic visits have come to a halt. Some zoos are now saying that they will be forced to close if the situation does not improve and are pressuring the Czech Environment Ministry to provide similar COVID-19 support measures to those enacted for theatres by the Ministry of Culture

Zoo Zlín,  photo: Roman Verner / Czech Radio

According to the director of Zoo Zlin, Roman Horský, zoos will have to resort to lowering the quality of feed, downsizing personnel and sending some of their animals to zoos abroad if support does not come soon.

“We are trying to meet the state half-way and help by shutting all irrelevant functions. However, we are not a restaurant or a ski resort. We cannot close down completely. We have 1,200 animals here and people who have to take care of them, so the expenses remain largely the same.”

His counterpart at the Dvůr Kralové Zoo, Přemysl Rabas, even went as far as to tell the daily Právo that some animals would have to be put down if money is not raised.

The appeals have had an effect on the public. Just last weekend Zoo Zlín raised more than CZK 1.5 million through gift tokens purchased via its online store. Particular interest was registered in the zoo’s Mám zvíře na víkend (Have an animal for a weekend) programme, which gives people the opportunity to “adopt” an animal for the weekend.

Dvůr Králové Zoo,  photo: Barbora Němcová

In practice this means that the person takes on the costs of feeding and caring for an animal for the given period. In return, they receive a photograph of the creature and an entertaining guide detailing what sort of care the animal requires. The zoo is also planning to show how animals are cared for through a series of online videos in the future. While the money has helped, it is still far from wiping the CZK 7 million worth of losses that the zoo has been hit with since the start of 2021.

The problem is that unlike restaurants or theatres, zoos have fewer options in how to cut costs. Financial help from the public is helping, but not enough to cover all of the costs.

Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry has doubled its zoo subsidy grant up to CZK 40 million. However, with zoos recording losses of CZK 200 million last year, this is only a small crutch. Another hope, promised by Environment Minister Richard Brabec, is that the zoos may find a way to draw money from two of the latest coronavirus compensation packages issued by the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Chimp Zoom Calls

It is not just the financial shortages of zoos that have made headlines in the Czech Republic. Reports started coming in already last year that animals are actually missing human visitors, to whom they have become accustomed to.

Two artists have since come up with the idea of connecting two chimpanzee groups in different zoos via large projectors, set up outside of their glass screens. The chimp “zoom calls” as they have since become known have since garnered popularity and can be viewed live by the public every day from 8am to 4pm on YouTube.

Mariana Hubíková from the Dvůr Kralové Zoo, which takes part in the project, has since told news site Seznam Zprávy that the zoom calls are having a positive effect, with chimps occasionally showing each other their food.