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closure fears Cork's Fota Wildlife Park warns it faces shutdown unless allowed to reopen

Zoo seeks to operate as outdoor-only facility

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Asian lions at Fota Wildlife Park. Picture: Darragh Kane

Asian lions at Fota Wildlife Park. Picture: Darragh Kane

Asian lions at Fota Wildlife Park. Picture: Darragh Kane

One of Ireland's most popular tourist attractions, Fota Wildlife Park in Cork, has warned it may face permanent shutdown unless it is allowed to reopen in the coming weeks.

The east Cork facility says it now only has sufficient funds to continue operations until June and desperately needs income, even if it only comes use as an outdoor-only facility in compliance with eased Covid-19 restrictions.

Fota director Sean McKeown said the park is almost entirely dependent on income from ticket sales.

“Some 95pc of our income comes from visitors that come to the park, so we are totally dependent on that to actually run the park," he told RTE.

"If we don't have them in here we are in trouble. We have funds to keep us going until June."

Mr McKeown said that management would like to reopen the park as a walkthrough area in the next two to three weeks - a reopening which would see all indoor areas remaining closed.

Mr McKeown stressed that the animals onsite are well looked after but that they really need to be open again.
It costs €380,000 to run Fota every month.

The 100-acre park ranks as one of the world's leading breeding centres for endangered creatures and boasts 135 different animal species.

A not-for-profit charity, Fota heavily depends on its gate receipts, which deliver around 95 per cent of its annual income.
Fota has an annual turnover of around €6m with more than 150 staff at peak summer operations.

Because of the Covid-19 shutdown, Fota has had to suspend work on the long-planned redevelopment of its popular Monkey Island, while vital flood protection schemes have also been stalled.

Each month, the food bill for Fota's animals is around €15,000.

The majority of Fota's animals represent some of the most endangered species on the planet.

Opened in 1983 on part of the old Smith-Barry estate, the park boasts almost 470,000 visitors annually.

Some 50 per cent of Fota's visitors are tourists and the park delivers a €200m boost to the local economy each season.

Five years ago, Fota opened its new €6m Asian Sanctuary and added a pride of Asian lions to the list of endangered species it is now hoping to breed.

They joined Sumatran Tigers as the park expanded its 'Big Cat' status which, from the park's opening, had revolved solely around cheetahs.

A total of €14m has been invested by Fota in a major expansion of its facilities and animal attractions since 2010.
Since it opened, Fota has established itself as one of the world's most successful parks for endangered species breeding programmes.

Endangered species successfully bred at Fota have been distributed to zoos and wildlife parks across four continents.

Last December, the Office of Public Works (OPW) announced the allocation of €3m in Government pandemic funding for Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park with €1m allocated to Fota Wildlife Park.

This has helped the park but money is running short.
At the time OPW Minister Patrick O'Donovan said he was conscious of the "catastrophic effect" of Covid-19 on the income of the zoo and the Cork park.

Fota Wildlife Park has received some support from the public, visitors, annual pass holders and schools as a result of the recent ‘Save Dublin Zoo’ campaign which highlighted the difficulties faced by zoological facilities in Ireland.

Fota is a not for profit conservation organisation which participates in the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) EEP and has been involved in the conservation and reintroduction of some species that are extinct or close to extinction in the wild.

These include the Scimitar-horned oryx as well as the European bison. It is currently the second largest visitor attraction in Ireland outside of Leinster.


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