Sharp rise in food prices hits Queensland zoos which feed animals specialist plant-based diets

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They are designed to protect the future of the world’s most vulnerable animal species, but regional zoos in Queensland are taking desperate measures to avoid extinction themselves.

Still recovering from the financially crippling COVID-19 pandemic, two private zoos on opposite ends of the state face their next fight for survival – absorbing skyrocketing operating costs without increasing operating expenses. entrance for visitors.

Darling Downs Zoo is home to 600 animals from Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and Australia.

A large percentage of them have specialized vegetarian diets.

Owners Steve and Stephanie Robinson said the exorbitant cost of produce increased their weekly grocery bill by 25%.

“The zoo is not essential…so if we increase our prices to cover the price increase, [customers] is going to leave us, and that has an impact because we have so many more mouths to feed.”

As prices rise and product availability increases, Ms Robinson said they have made changes to cope.

“You have to try to adjust your diet so that the animals don’t run out…you also look for other sources to keep us going during these downtimes,” she said.

“It definitely becomes difficult to juggle what you feed and how much, to try to make sure the animals are getting the right nutrition.”

Zoo operators Steve and Stephanie Robinson say the cost of feeding their animals has risen by 25%.(Southern Queensland ABCs: Tania Scherf)

Zoo visitor Danielle Fowler said that with a family of five, any potential future increase in entry fees should take into account the family budget.

“Unfortunately the cost of everything has gone up, so we have to factor that in as well.”

Two women, two children and a baby sitting on a picnic table smiling at the camera.
Toowoomba resident Danielle Fowler and her family enjoying a day at Darling Downs Zoo(Southern Queensland ABCs: Tania Scherf )

Animals run out of treats like sweet corn

It’s a similar struggle in North Queensland.

Billabong Sanctuary general manager Beau Peberdy said they were catching up with another two years of COVID restrictions.

“Week after week we try to salvage what we can,” he said.

“Throughout COVID there have been massive staff cuts and the inability to pick up products… [that’s] easier now, but the prices have gone up considerably.”

To cut costs, Mr Peberdy said the animals at the sanctuary are going without their usual “treat food” like sweet corn and sweet potato.

A smiling man holding a koala next to a row of tin-fenced wooden cottages.
Billabong Sanctuary general manager Beau Peberdy says expensive produce makes it difficult to manage the zoo’s budget.(Provided: Beau Peberdy)

At Darling Downs Zoo, the resident rhinoceros iguana and giant Adalbra tortoises feed largely on expensive salad greens. A cheaper alternative has therefore been found in one of Australia’s most harmful plants.

“We had to supplement their diet to include prickly pears to alleviate the high cost of lettuce,” Robinson said.

Supplier says absorb some costs

Percy Pugliese has been supplying Darling Downs Zoo with fresh produce for over two decades.

He said it had been difficult to fill orders not only to meet the nutritional needs of the animals, but also to meet the weekly budget.

“It’s extremely difficult. The prices have skyrocketed, and they’re $80 to $90 a box, and they [markets] will cut you from 20 boxes to two,” Mr. Pugliese said.

“I am sympathetic to their cause because I know they are in a difficult situation.”

Man standing in front of fresh produce looking at camera
Percy Pugliese has been supplying fresh produce to Darling Downs Zoo for 20 years. (Southern Queensland ABCs: Anthea Moodie)

It’s not just the cost of products that’s causing zoos headaches – it’s everything else, from electricity to insurance to staff.

“We have now reached the stage where we will probably have to let at least one member of staff go,” Mr Robinson said.

“And for the others – including ourselves, we work for nothing – we are all going to have to work harder.”

Staff are also a concern for Billabong Sanctuary, but for a very different reason.

“So trying to find a rental for someone moving to the area is difficult.”

Impact on the tourism dollar

While the average monthly household fuel bill pales in comparison to the Robinsons’ $2,000, the impact has left the car tourism market struggling.

“Our Brisbane market is falling hugely because people think they can’t afford the fuel to go out here, not because they don’t want to take the kids to the zoo,” Mr Robinson said.

“During the school term, our school markets shrink because the price of the bus has increased because bus operators are also facing these additional pressures.”

Despite financial strain, zoos remain optimistic about the future.

“At least we get the number of visitors out the door,” Mr. Peberdy said.

“We just hope that people will continue to come and visit us, even if their life becomes much more expensive.”

Ms. Robinson agrees.

“You have all these mouths that are so dependent on us that they can’t get enough of you, so you pick yourself up and keep going,” she said.

But when it gets a little too much, Mrs. Robinson turns to her feathered and furry friends.

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