‘Conservation cannot wait’ - Chester Zoo unveils ambitious plans to help prevent wildlife extinction

Video report by Tasha Kacheri.

It's been a year like no other for Chester Zoo.

Three closures; £11.5m losses; no access to a tailored Government support fund; a public ‘Save Our Zoo’ fundraising movement which raised £3.6m in donations and reached 40.5m people on social media; a host of big animal births in lockdown and taking the zoo digitally into the homes of tens of millions via live Virtual Zoo Days. Quite the rollercoaster. But despite the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic, the zoo are unveiling ambitious plans to prevent wildlife extinction -

- as scientists warn human activity has pushed planet’s biodiversity towards a tipping point.

"Conservation cannot wait" say zoo Credit: Chester zoo

The zoo’s new Conservation Masterplan – which aims to make a significant contribution to tackling the global extinction crisis by 2031 – draws on the zoo’s decades of experience of working with wildlife, both at the zoo and with its field partners in the wild, and its expertise in science and conservation.

Experts at the zoo say the plan is committed to the recovery of endangered species, tackling the challenges faced by wildlife both in the UK and globally, and empowering communities to pursue pro-conservation behaviours. It comes as scientists highlight a more urgent need than ever before for the restoration of nature in the run up to global summits on biodiversity and climate change later this year, while the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the intrinsic connection between how humans and the natural world intertwine.

Conservationists at the zoo have identified six key targets to benefit wildlife as the backbone of the plan. They say that by 2031 the zoo will:

  • Preserve options for future conservation for an additional 150 species throughconservation breeding and propagation

  • Halt or reverse the decline of 200 highly threatened populations of plants andanimal species in the wild

  • Improve landscapes for wildlife totalling 250,000 hectares

  • Train 5,000 conservationists to deliver positive change for wildlife

  • Empower 10 million people to live more sustainably

  • Influence change in five major policy areas for wildlife

"The zoo celebrates its 90th birthday this year and so we are drawing on decades of experience, research and discovery. Our integrated approach to conservation, utilising the skills of our staff, our conservation partners, students, academics and supporters, is a tremendous model. This 10-year plan will take us up to the zoo’s 100-year anniversary when we’ll be able to look back and clearly see the results of our mission to protect the natural world.

"Preventing extinction is complex and requires a multi-faceted approach. Almost every species faces multiple interrelated threats to its continued survival and finding solutions requires a high degree of collaboration. Our interdisciplinary zoo teams, together with our extensive network of field and academic partners, take a holistic approach to conservation. Our focus is on populations of animals and plants; places for wildlife; people and policy - and by integrating activities in these four areas we can maximise our impact.”

Penguins at Chester Zoo Credit: Chester zoo

A number of world renowned scientists and conservationists have hailed the zoo’s new plan for wildlife, and the timing of its launch, with 2021 seen by many experts as a pivotal time for nature, as world leaders prepare for crucial summits on biodiversity and climate that will determine the long-term future of nature on the planet.

Developed in line with UN’s sustainable development goals, the zoo’s new Conservation Masterplan also sets out a path for the zoo to achieve carbon net zero and zero waste in its operations by 2030, as well as ensure the procurement of deforestation free commodities in all of its supply chains. Conservation bosses at the zoo say the launch of the new strategy comes at a “challenging time” for the zoo, which has suffered £11.5m losses as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but insist that “conservation simply cannot wait” and that the zoo must push on with its ambitious plans, despite the financial challenges facing thewildlife charity.

Jamie Christon, Chester Zoo’s CEO, added:“These are undeniably challenging times – our charity zoo has incurred huge losses as a result of the pandemic and national lockdowns, which has inevitably impacted some of our vital conservation work both at the zoo and in various parts of the world. However, we’ve always had the most incredible love and support, particularly during the last year, and it’s that support which is navigating us through this crisis. It’s why we refuse to relent in our efforts to prevent extinction – we can’t and we won’t; it’s the very reason Chester Zooexists. The pandemic has focused our minds and our precious resources on what really matters - a masterplan for wildlife that will deliver real conservation impact, and fast. Conservation simply cannot wait. The time for action, is now.

“Progressive zoos like ours are powerhouses in conservation. Zoos globally contribute more than $350 million annually to species conservation programmes in the wild, making them the world's third-largest funder of species conservation after World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The Nature Conservancy. Our unique combination of thriving animal populations, millions of visitors, scientific research and wide ranging skills is simply invaluable. This Conservation Masterplan is the zoo’s most ambitious programme to date and it will make a real difference to our planet while inspiring others to live better to the benefit of wildlife. Together, we can prevent extinction.”