Published: 20:10, 05 January 2021
| Updated: 23:13, 05 January 2021
A Kent wildlife park has launched an urgent appeal to help it save three lions and a family of brown bears.
Charity The Aspinall Foundation fears it may be forced to abandon plans to re-home the creatures at Port Lympne Reserve, near Hythe, if it fails to raise its £250,000 target.
It had already started preparations to take on the creatures before yesterday's announcement that the country would be plunged into lockdown for the third time.
But now the organisation says the project has been thrown into uncertainty, as the animal park faces the prospect of having to make ends meet without visitor revenue for the next month.
A message on its appeal page says: "Our expert team has designed safe sanctuaries where these animals can live peacefully and display natural behaviours while receiving the best possible care at Port Lympne.
"However, without vital visitor and short breaks income, the future of this vitally important project has been thrown into doubt.
"We barely survived the first lockdown and received no meaningful support from the government.
"The £100 million Zoo Animals Fund was inaccessible to almost all large animal parks and we reopened with our future on a knife edge and a £2 million hole in our finances."
The Aspinall Foundation, which also runs Howletts near Canterbury, says the lions were rescued from a circus in France.
The animals - named Mojito, Timothy and Anthares - are said to have been "deliberately underfed to keep them weak and small enough to use for photoshoots".
Meanwhile, the family of bears, which includes through cubs, is set to be made homeless when their current home, an Andorran adventure park, closes.
"We cannot ignore their suffering," the foundation adds.
"Regardless of whether our gates are open or not, it costs us more than £300,000 a week just to operate our parks.
"Our animal keepers cannot be furloughed, our food bills will not change and the cost of keeping our 1,300 animals safe remains the same.
"This lockdown has pushed Port Lympne and Howletts into hibernation. Without your help we may be forced to abandon our animal rescue and rehoming plans."
Click here to donate.