It is feeding time at Greece’s only zoo and a capuchin monkey grabs as many mandarins as it can – even tucking one into his long, supple tail. It might be wise to stock up.
After being closed for almost three months because of COVID-19, the zoo on the fringes of Athens could be on the road to extinction: With no paying visitors or – unlike other European zoos – enough government aid to cover its very particular needs, the Attica Zoological Park faces huge bills to keep 2,000 animals well-fed and healthy.
“As things are … we still can go on for at least one month,” zoo founder and CEO Jean Jacques Lesueur said. “After that, we don’t know.”
Unlike some businesses forced to temporarily close amid virus-control restrictions, the zoo continues to have sizeable operating expenses. Between food, salaries, utilities, medical care and other expenses, the cost of caring for the animals currently exceeds 200,000 euros ($243,000) per month.
“That’s the difference between us and other companies: When they close they close. We close, but we don’t close,” Lesueur told The Associated Press.
Founded in 2000 and located in the town of Spata, the zoo occupies 20 hectares (50 acres) and is home to 290 species, from elephants to prairie dogs. It is involved in education, conservation and breeding, and belongs to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which has about 400 members.
Visitors account for more than 99 percent of its revenue, which comprises ticket, food and beverage, and gift shop sales. So every month’s revenue counts, and the loss of December, usually busy because of the Christmas holidays, was particularly heavy.
So far, suppliers have shown understanding and are accepting credit. Two-thirds of the zoo’s staff is on state-supported furlough, and an expected instalment of state aid will take care of this month’s pay for the rest, said Lesueur.
The zoo also has sold 5,000 advance tickets at reduced prices for when the lockdown ends, and Lesueur said that helped pay December’s salaries.