The zoos, like other sectors that have to rely on visitors, are in the corner where the blows fall. Diergaarde Blijdorp in Rotterdam has to say goodbye to a quarter of the staff. Director Erik Zevenbergen, who is also chairman of the Dutch Zoo Association (NVD), says that none of the members can escape reorganization.
And that does not mean that they are definitely out of harm’s way. “It is really not the case that zoos cannot fall over,” warns Zevenbergen. The thirteen largest zoos in the Netherlands are affiliated with the NVD. In addition to Blijdorp, these include ARTIS, Ouwehands Zoo and the Beekse Bergen.
According to Zevenbergen, the problems among members vary from “substantial to very large”. The zoos all face the same basic problem. Part of the income is lost while the costs continue. “Parks such as ARTIS and us have very high costs as a legacy from the past, because we were a municipal organization.”
As a result, the organization is larger than necessary and that is certainly taking its toll now. Blijdorp has 180 FTEs on its payroll, of which 40 to 50 FTEs must be scrapped. ARTIS, Blijdorp, de Apenheul and Avifauna are also foundations. “Not for profit, which means that we do not have large buffers”, the director continues. According to him, Blijdorp had a good year last year. “Then you have a buffer of a few tons, maybe 1 million, but that was gone in no time.”
“Only when a loft threatens to collapse something is done about it”, says director Erik Zevenbergen of Diergaarde Blijdorp (Photo: Pro Shots).
‘Only maintenance when the loft threatens to collapse’
For the wage costs, an appeal could be made to NOW, which is the largest cost item, but the care of animals and plants is also expensive. “And you don’t want to skimp on that,” says Zevenbergen. “For example, we have cut back considerably on maintenance, we do nothing about it unless a loft is in danger of collapsing. We have postponed investments such as in new accommodation. The orange has been squeezed.”
The loss of turnover for the sector amounts to 150 million euros. “Of which we as NVD have said that we carry 40 million ourselves, after all we are also entrepreneurs.” The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality has made 39 million euros available for the entire sector, ie dozens of zoos. “For the rest, everyone is now turning to local authorities. Rotterdam has already promised that Blijdorp will receive a bridging loan of a few million to survive and finance the reorganization.”
This makes the zoo more flexible for the future. Zevenbergen: “This year nobody is really in danger of falling over, but next year they will, especially if corona still remains.”