The potential takeover of a zoo by an amusement park has led to public uneasiness.
The Toronto Zoo in Canada has got to this stage because it has been running at a £20 million loss, which means that the local council is now forced to either sell or lease it.
The interested party is a Spanish company, Parque Reunidos, which is one of the world’s largest amusement park facilities running such theme parks as Waterworld in Stoke on Trent.
Dennis Speigel, who is the president of the International Theme Park Consultants, said: “The Toronto Zoo runs about a $20-million deficit; private organizations can do a better job.”
This worries local residents because privatizing zoos might make money the premier concern and put the zoo’s status as a conservation and research entity at risk.
Yet to make sure that the zoo does not become a tourist trap, Toronto city might keep hold of the zoo while letting a non-profit organisation run it. This is a model that is currently working well at many other zoos around the world, and it that works especially well when it comes to attracting donations.
The fear is that if the zoo is bought by a private company then it will not have the best interest of the animals at heart, but instead be solely run with the aim of making a profit.
Yet the Parque Reunidos has experience of running several other zoos at present and so knows how to operate within the guidelines of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
A former CEO of Toronto Zoo, Cal White, said: “They are not going to come in without thought and just stick a roller coaster out by the ostriches. At the same time, for a major company to take on this kind of product and responsibility, they are not doing it out of the goodness of their heart.”
This profit-focused approach means that new owners of the zoo might look to cut costs by lessening the wage bill. Workers are concerned that they could lose their job amid an outsourcing rush.
Grant Ankerman, the president of the Toronto Zoo Keepers Union, said: “The current model works quite well. Torontonians are getting good bang for their buck now. Why change?”