No income, mouths to feed: Lockdown squeezes Greek zoo

Nicholas Paphitis

ATHENS, GREECE (AP) — It’s feeding time at Greece’s only zoo, and a capuchin monkey grabs as many mandarins as it can — even tucking one into his long, supple tail. It might be wise to stock up.

After being closed for almost three months due to COVID-19, the zoo on the fringes of Athens could be on the road to extinction: With no paying visitors or — unlike other European zoos — enough government aid to cover its very particular needs, the Attica Zoological Park faces huge bills to keep 2,000 animals well-fed and healthy.

“As things are… we still can go on for at least one month,” zoo founder and CEO Jean Jacques Lesueur said. “After that, we don’t know.”

Unlike some businesses forced to temporarily close due to virus-control restrictions, the zoo continues to have sizeable operating expenses. Between food, salaries, utilities, medical care and other expenses, the cost of caring for the animals currently exceeds EUR200,000 per month.

“That’s the difference between us and other companies: When they close they close. We close, but we don’t close,” Lesueur told the Associated Press.

Zoo curator Adonis Balas feeds three giraffes at the Attica Zoological Park in Spata. PHOTO: AP

Founded in 2000 and located in the town of Spata, the zoo occupies 20 hectares and is home to 290 species, from elephants to prairie dogs. It’s involved in education, conservation and breeding, and belongs to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which has about 400 members.

Having to close again on November 7 after Greece’s two-month spring lockdown came at a bad time for Attica Zoological Park. The zoo normally operates year-round but does a lot of its business during cooler weather “because in Greece people go to the beaches, to the islands, they don’t visit zoos” in the summer, the French-born Lesueur said.

Visitors account for more than 99 per cent of its revenue, from tickets, food and beverages and gift shop sales. So every month’s revenue counts, and the loss of December, usually busy due to the Christmas holidays, was particularly heavy.

So far, suppliers have shown understanding and are accepting credit. Two-thirds of the zoo’s staff is on state-supported furlough, and an expected installment of state aid will take care of this month’s pay for the rest, the CEO said.