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David Attenborough
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Sir David Attenborough is coming to save London Zoo

The naturalist and broadcaster is heading ZSL’s fundraising campaign

Chris Waywell
Written by
Chris Waywell
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which runs London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo, announced over the weekend that Sir David Attenborough would be leading its campaign to safeguard the future of the institution. London Zoo, along with hundreds of other attractions in the capital, had to close down for three months. Unfortunately, there was no furlough scheme in place for its non-human inhabitants, so its running costs and food bills have remained at pre-lockdown levels throughout, leaving it in grave financial peril. Although the zoo has now reopened, it is imposing strict social-distancing measures and using pre-booked ticket time slots, meaning that visitor numbers are only around 20 percent of capacity. Whipsnade Zoo is facing a similar situation.

The 94-year-old broadcaster first worked with London Zoo back in 1953, on the TV programme ‘The Pattern of Animals’. He was awarded ZSL’s top honour in 1965 in recognition of his contribution to natural history and nature conservation and opened the Komodo Dragon House at the zoo in 2004. Speaking in last weekend’s Sunday Times, Attenborough was passionate about the plight of the animals: ‘What happens if you can’t raise the money to keep the animals? What happens if you can’t afford the food? Are we supposed to put them down?’ He’s now fronting a fundraising campaign to raise £12 million, part of a £25m package across the two zoos.  

When Attenborough spoke to Time Out in March this year, he talked about the big picture, the global problem of climate change and human self-interest destroying the planet. His outlook was bleak. ‘The question is,’ he told us, ‘are they going to be just a little worse or catastrophically worse? […] We’ve reached a point where [there’s so much data] you can’t deny climate change. But you can deny responsibility for climate change.’ That was on the eve of lockdown. Now, the problems are closer to home: how to ensure that a world-leading research and conservation institution like London Zoo can beat its own threat of extinction. 

One thing’s for sure: it’s one London institution coming to the aid of another. 

Donate to the campaign here.

Other London attractions are also in peril.

Find out when London’s museums and galleries might reopen.

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