Scottish park owners call for reopening before 15 July

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PandaImage source, RZSS
Image caption,
Edinburgh Zoo's animals include giant pandas

The owners of animal attractions across Scotland have appealed to the Scottish government to allow the sites to reopen this month.

Zoos and safari parks in England can reopen from Monday, but those in Scotland must wait until 15 July.

Edinburgh Zoo expects to lose £400,000 in funding, while Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling has been "pushed towards a financial cliff".

The government said it had to act in a "careful and properly assessed" way.

The Scottish government has told Scotland's tourism businesses, including pubs, hotels and restaurants, to prepare for reopening on 15 July, if the risk from the coronavirus has been reduced.

Earlier this week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she had "nothing but sympathy" for organisations such as Edinburgh Zoo, but said the government had to act carefully.

Zoos and safari parks have been closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but their operators believe they could be reopened with social distancing measures in place.

'Desperate to open'

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland said missing the start of the summer season could see it lose a total of £500,000 in funding for its sites within five weeks - £400,000 at Edinburgh Zoo and and £100,000 for the Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore in the Cairngorms.

Edinburgh Zoo's collection includes giant pandas and koalas, while the wildlife park has four polar bears, including Hamish, the first polar bear cub to be born in the UK in 25 years.

Chief executive David Field said: "We welcome the Scottish government's efforts to reopen the tourism sector in Scotland because we desperately need our parks to open again.

"While we understand it is vital for lockdown measures to be eased gradually, we had hoped to open by the end of June as part of phase two, with similar safety measures to protect staff and visitors as the zoos and safari parks which will reopen in England over the next few days."

He added: "We also expected to open before places like hotels, pubs and restaurants because our parks are ideal spaces for people and families to enjoy nature in safe outdoor environments."

Image source, RZSS
Image caption,
Hamish the polar bear is one of the most popular animals at the Highland Wildlife Park

Hector Muir, managing director of Blair Drummond Safari Park, said outdoor venues could operate safely with social distancing.

He said: "The safari park sits on a 160 acre site which is perfectly suited for social distancing in a safe and control environment and we are ready to reopen.

"We have comprehensive procedures in place to limit visitor numbers each day and offer a safe and controlled for our visitors to enjoy."

'A safe reopening'

Mr Muir said the pandemic could not have come at a worst time for the park.

It had opened for just one day of its new season when it had to close, and over the winter had invested in a new sea lion plant room and dinosaur exhibition to mark the park's 50th anniversary.

Mr Muir said: "The park desperately needs to open and has now reached critical stage where by each week we remain closed pushes us closer to a financial cliff from it will become increasing difficult to recover from."

The owners of Camperdown Wildlife Centre in Dundee have also supported calls for animal attractions to reopening before 15 July.

Leisure and Culture Dundee said: "Along with everyone involved in the sector, we would welcome a safe reopening as soon as possible."