A lioness at the Darling Downs Zoo.
A lioness at the Darling Downs Zoo. Contributed

Darling Downs Zoo offered lifeline by Federal Government

THE Darling Downs Zoo has been offered a lifeline by the Federal Government, as part of a $94.6 million support package for Australian zoos and aquariums to help them get through the COVID-19 crisis.

The zoo had been forced to lay off front-of-house staff and cut their budget in half due to coronavirus closures. They also took to GoFundMe to raise funds so they could buy much-needed items.

The funding will assist exhibiting zoos and aquariums with the fixed operational costs associated with the caring of their animals, while also helping to ensure Australian zoos and aquariums can remain viable and ready to welcome visitors when restrictions are eased.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said zoos like the Darling Downs Zoo would continue to be crucial to the visitor economies of many regional towns across Australia when their doors open again. 

"Keeping our regional zoos and aquariums in the best shape possible as we deal with this pandemic will be vital to helping regional communities get back on their feet, sustaining local jobs," Mr McCormack said.

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the initiative would provide vital assistance for Australia's exhibiting zoos and aquariums who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"This will be a lifeline for these popular tourism attractions across Australia who have had many of their revenue streams dry up during this crisis," Minister Birmingham said. 

"It's absolutely crucial our iconic zoos and aquariums can still operate on the other side and play a major role in helping our tourism industry to recover from this.

"We know our world-class zoos and aquariums are major tourism drawcards for many of our major cities and regional centres across Australia, with over 20 million visitors walking through the gates each year."

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the funding would help ensure Australia's zoos and aquariums could continue to provide quality treatment and care to their animals during this time. 

"While COVID-19 may be keeping visitors away, zookeepers, aquarium owners and veterinarians continue to play a lead role in wildlife recovery after the bushfires, from treatment and rehabilitation to the development of insurance populations," Ms Ley said.

"At the same time, they are caring for millions of animals who live permanently within their network and this is critical funding to support the welfare of those animals along with the vital ongoing role zoos play in conserving our environment and protecting native species."

Eligible exhibiting zoos and aquariums will have access to a grant that contributes towards up to six months of its animal welfare operating costs. This includes animal feed, enclosure, health and other specialised care expenses, and utilities directly related to the housing and caring for animals.

In addition to this support to help with operational costs, zoos and aquariums who meet the criteria will be able to apply for the JobKeeper program to assist with staffing costs.