It's a jungle out there but zoo hopes animal magic will help it net €1m from sponsors
IT'S no monkey business as the cash involved certainly won't be peanuts.
Dublin Zoo has announced plans to go into business, seeking a deal with two new commercial partners as part of a central plan to keep the country's number one family visitor attraction in the black. The move comes in the wake of the expiry this year of its €18m state development fund, which was provided back in 2006.
Two complete habitats, one just launched and another heading for a revamp, are to be offered to commercial partners for sponsorship seeking up to €1m between them over a five-year period.
Each of the two habitats has been earmarked for high-profile breeding programmes over the next few years for elephants and for lions. These are expected to become big visitor draws in years ahead.
While the zoo takes in €10m a year in admission fees, it's a jungle out there in recession-era Ireland and costs are now running at €9m.
"In order to keep expanding and developing as we would like, and to cover our costs, we will need to make commercial partnerships of the sort which will not damage our amenity value for visitors," says Dublin Zoo marketing manager Emma Kiernan.
The first area for commercial partnership is the 50,000 sq ft Asian Forests habitat which opened earlier this month. This contains the Asian lions (of which there are only 400 remaining), the Sumatran tigers and the Sulawesi crested macaques.
The facility is to become part of a vital world species saving drive with its Asian lion breeding programme getting under way shortly.
The second area up for grabs is the "Kaziranga Forest Trail" habitat which includes the ever-popular elephants in an authentic landscaped area of pools, rockscapes and bamboo. The final touches are now being added in the form of a new elephant house.
The elephants are matriarch Bernhardine, her daughter Asha, her sister Yasmin, Yasmin's daughter Anak and son Budi, who are now awaiting the arrival of Upali, a bull elephant from Chester Zoo who is due in July to start the breeding programme.
Sponsors must pass the zoo's own test to judge whether they are suited to the eco and humane ethos of the amenity and will be expected to stump up €80,000 to €90,000 for periods of between four and five years.
A brochure for the Asian Forests habitat appeals to firms with an eco agenda or which target children and mothers. In exchange for sponsorship the zoo offers a number of family and single-day passes, sampling and branding, public relations opportunities and ownership of the launch event.
Those who believe a commercial zoo partnership is bananas can look at the case of Fyffes which was approached last year to take sponsorship of a new habitat -- in this case the Gorilla Rainforest, which opened in September.
"I have to say that at first we were a little reluctant, but our commercial partnership with the zoo has actually turned out to be a resounding success for us," says Fyffes marketing manager Emma Crewe. "We have had some fantastic events there, not least the first birthday of Kituba the baby gorilla. I think there was 14,000 visitors there on the day.
"The Gorilla Rainforest ended up being a perfect marriage for our Freddy Fyffes campaign aimed at children and young people.
"We've been able to offer free zoo tickets with stickers collected from our banana bunches.
"The two habitats now available offer great opportunities to the right companies. Perhaps a sportwear firm for the Asian Forest given the lion and tiger theme."
In two smaller deals, McVities have long sponsored the penguins and Agriaware have taken the Family Farm.
Before it embarked on a massive redevelopment programme facilitated by an €18m fund put in place by Government in 2006, Dublin Zoo had been struggling financially. Old small-scale sponsorships had disappeared in the wake of a formerly poor image in times when many believed the conditions in which the larger animals were held were outdated and inhumane.
But the 182-year-old facility -- the world's third oldest zoo -- has since expanded with the approval of rights groups.