In Depth

German zoo prepares to feed animals to each other

Neumunster zoo, deprived of its income from visitors by Covid-19, is running out of the funds it needs

A zoo in Germany has made plans to feed some of its animals to others to keep them alive, as the coronavirus pandemic reduces its income, threatening its ability to buy food.

Neumunster zoo, which is located north of Hamburg, in Schleswig-Holstein, has revealed it may sacrifice its non-endangered animals to feed its polar bear Vitus - Germany’s biggest at nearly 12ft tall - as well as its lynx and eagles.

“If - and this is really the worst, worst case of all - if I no longer have any money to buy feed, or if it should happen that my feed supplier is no longer able to deliver due to new restrictions, then I would slaughter animals to feed other animals,” said the director of Neumunster Zoo, Verena Kaspari.

Kaspari told Die Welt they had “listed the animals we’ll have to slaughter first”, but added that none of the endangered animals would be killed.

Lockdowns imposed in response to Covid-19 have kept the typical crowds, especially at Easter, housebound. The animal park, which normally draws about 150,000 annual visitors, had to close on 15 March in response to the restrictions.

“Zoos are a favourite pastime of people in Germany,” reports DW. “A total of 75% of Germans enjoy visiting the zoo.”

The lack of ticket sales has therefore presented an acute challenge, and Neumunster zoo’s drastic solution is an attempt to draw attention to the crisis.

Speaking to The New York Times, however, Jan Bauer, who runs a similar-sized zoo north of Leipzig, said threats to feed the animals to one another may go unnecessarily far.

“Of course, it’s for everyone to decide for themselves,” he said on Wednesday. “But if we didn’t have any food, the animal sponsors and the locals would certainly donate some.”

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Still, Bauer acknowledged that part of his zoo’s budget comes from the city of Dessau, giving it access to funding unavailable to Neumunster zoo.

“We are not getting any city funds, and all the state funds we have applied for so far have not yet arrived,” said Neumunster’s Kaspari.

Kaspari estimates that her zoo’s loss of income will be about €175,000 (£152,400) this spring and points out that even if they carry out their plan to use their own animals as food, this still would not help many of the inhabitants, like the seals and penguins, who consume massive amounts of fresh fish every day.

“If it comes to it, I’ll have to euthanise animals, rather than let them starve,” she said.

The German government has put an emergency fund for small businesses in place, but as Neumunster zoo belongs to an association, it does not qualify for the programme.

The Independent reports that the industry has campaigns in place to address the issue. “As well as asking for public donations, Germany’s zoos are seeking €100m (£87.3m) in aid from the German government,” the publication says.

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