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Thank you DEFRA!

As a zoologist and Curator of a Zoo-licenced animal collection I want to thank DEFRA for what they are doing to keep us all, and the wildlife we work to conserve, as safe as possible at this time. You may be wondering why Zoos, wildlife parks and nature centres are not able to open at the moment, especially when we have seen flocks of people sunbathing on the beaches. This is because its less to do with social distancing and getting the economy going and more to do with the actual protection of us and the animals – the public needs to grasp that we contracted COVID from wild animals, and understand that many other species could easily catch it from us – and in turn they could potentially re-infect us after its mutated into something even worse.

Zoologists and biologists are currently working around the clock to try and understand how the virus could impact other species and which other animals may be highly susceptible .. its a race against time, but so important we get a clear understanding before opening the floodgates and then realising our biggest mistake.

The reason a visit to the zoo right now is different from going to the park or beach is that most zoos have tens of thousands of exotic animals within a small area .. and that means any mistake could have a catastrophic effect if it was to get out of control. We have all spent time waiting to see how COVID-19 affects our life, but what hasn’t been on the news is how it could affect the animals around us. It’s not fair to open the zoos just for our entertainment until the proper research is done – People sometimes forget that the world is made up of a lot more than themselves and whilst we focus on what’s effecting us humans many forget that animals around the world are also at risk.

For example, did you know that in Madagascar researchers are now self isolating and have rules that are not for just human contact but to help protect Lemurs thought to be at great threat from COVID. All the great apes, including Orangutans, Chimpanzees, and Gorilla’s all rate as very highly likely to be fully susceptible to COVID and if they get it it could affect them with much more strength than it does us humans. Can you imagine the shame if we wiped out the same critically endangered zoo creatures we’ve all put so much effort into trying to conserve, just through our eagerness and irresponsibility. We already know we can pass the virus to animals, and they in turn can pass it back to us – recently 10,000 mink had to destroyed directly because of this. How long do you think it would be before that happens from a zoo animal if we’re not careful. We are only just in the very early stages of this crucial work with a limited number of zoo animal species’ susceptibility assessed, based on prediction modelling.

I really feel for all my good friends and colleagues who are struggling in the zoos at the moment. My heart goes out to them. I don’t know what the answer is.. but maybe its not opening the gates just yet..

Thank you again DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for being responsible and waiting until we may obtain some real information to properly understand the susceptibility and involvement the many different wild animals play in the bigger COVID picture. Not allowing zoos to open yet is the right move – its so important we don’t open too soon as there is still some incredibly important work to be done before we know its safe for all.

As a zoologist who’s spent many years in conservation working with endangered species I would like to urge the public to consider the impact of what a family day out could do to extinguish all the vital research that biologists, not only in zoos but around the globe, have been working on to protect us and our wildlife. Let’s remind ourselves that we are the second most effected country in the world by COVID-19. Here in the North of England we still have an R-rated infection figure of more than 1, we know that this virus can already mutate and if a zoo animal was to pass it back to us then all the work being put into a virus vaccine is wasted. Since the start, this virus its still just as deadly, so is it right to be rushing back into everyday life and even thinking about taking children (the highest carriers of the virus) to the zoo? Now you have a zoologist’s perspective would you risk walking through the free flight bat cave, a lemur enclosure, or a potential sneeze drifting in the wind to a baby orangutan?

Once again, a heartfelt thanks to every single person working to save our planet.

Lemur exposure to COVID Emergency

Great Apes under threat of COVID

Mink pass COVID back to Humans

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