Tallinn Zoo has not had to constrain activities yet

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Polar bear Rasputin, the newest resident of Tallinn Zoo. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

More than half of European zoos have closed their parks for visitors due to the increased spread of COVID-19. Most of them however depend mainly on ticket revenue and are facing serious problems as exotic animals are not cheap to take care of.

As part of a polar bear mating program, the Zoo of Tallinn welcomed Rasputin, a transfer from England, last week. While the 500kg beast has not yet been unveiled for the public to see, the process to get him to Estonia was rushed because of impending bureaucracy issues stemming from Brexit.

Brexit aside, financial issues coming from the coronavirus pandemic could suspend transfer programs and nature conversation projects across Europe and the world. What will happen to the animals if zoos run out of money?

Tiit Maran, director of Tallinn Zoo, said this kind of situation, where most zoos worldwide are looking at financial difficulties, is one of a kind. "In this moment, zoos do not know what will come either and cannot offer up any solutions. It is a subject that zoos think about constantly - if things go really bad, what can we do?" Maran said.

The pockets of a zoo with closed gates will be empty and the losses will be huge. The darkest scenario of closing Tallinn's zoo has fortunately not come up yet.

"We are in a quite happy situation that the city of Tallinn understands our mission and why we are important. Everything regarding investments - let's say the cloud forest project and tiger valley project. There are no constraints there, we can see those through," Maran said.

The zoo director said the zoo's budget is a little north of €5 million a year with most of it directed at wages. "And a large part goes to food for animals, a little under half a million. And then there is building maintenance," Maran said.

He added that the zoo's own income makes up nearly 35 percent of the budget. "There have been no signs that we should restrict our actions now, because as time goes on, the importance of nature education becomes more important. And we must contribute, it is very important and it is what the zoo is working on," Maran noted.

Zoos have three important pillars: animals, staff and visitors. Tallinn Zoo is still open to visitors with numbers lower during colder months either way. Distancing is also sufficient in the area of close to 90 hectares.

"If the virus' spread increases more and the number of visitors were to drop, we might have to do what we did in spring - close down the zoo temporarily. Because there is another side of the coin - we have animals in addition to people who might be in danger, because according to experiences in other zoos, animals can also become infected," Maran said.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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