Wildlife institutions affected by a loss of visitor revenue during the Covid-19 lockdown are set to receive government support with $14.89 million of funding.
Conservation minister Eugenie Sage says the impacts of Covid-19 have severely reduced wildlife institutions’ revenue from visitor admissions and philanthropic donations and the closure of borders means revenue is likely to remain low for the 2020/21 financial year.
“Eco-sanctuaries, zoos, aquariums, wildlife parks, and wildlife rescue, hospital and rehabilitation facilities provide crucial support for the recovery of Aotearoa New Zealand’s indigenous and threatened species,” says Sage.
Sage says the protection and welfare of threatened species is at risk if these facilities close.
The response to the aspergillosis disease outbreak in kākāpō in 2019 highlights the value of wildlife institutions, she says.
“Department of Conservation (DOC) staff were supported by conservation practitioners from wildlife hospitals, zoos and kiwi incubation centres. The ability to access skilled veterinary services prevented a devastating outcome for kākāpō.”
Captive-based conservation efforts, such as Operation Nest Egg for rare kiwi and captive breeding for kākāriki/orange-fronted parakeet, shore plover, Chesterfield and cobble skink recovery programmes are critical for the recovery of threatened species.
“The only known population of cobble skinks is at Auckland Zoo.”
She says rehoming wildlife is not a sound option.
"The costs would be very high and this would require significant investment and intervention from DOC and the Ministry for Primary Industries.”
Volunteer support and education
Sage says wildlife institutions also develop and harness local community and volunteer support, and play a vital role in the education of young people.
“These unique places enable young people to connect with nature, learn about indigenous species and the need to protect their natural habitats."
The funding will cover urgent and critical operational costs to maintain animal welfare, protect and retain specialist jobs and prevent the collapse of recovery programmes for the country's most threatened species.
The funding for 2020-21 will be administered by DOC and will require wildlife institutions to submit proposals to DOC to receive funding. Severely impacted wildlife institutions will receive funding within the next few weeks.