Bristol zoo asks John Lewis to help its penguin appeal – the answer is no
Zoo relies on public donations after retailer, whose Christmas ad is about boy seeking friend for his lonely penguin, disappoints
Bristol Zoological Society this month started an appeal for £20,000 to help care for African penguin chicks abandoned by their parents and being cared for at a rehabilitation centre in South Africa, a project led by the zoo.
The species, commonly known as the jackass penguin, is endangered. The bird’s population fell 70% between 2001 and 2013 and fewer than 18,000 breeding pairs are left in the wild off the South African and Namibian coast. A lack of action could end in extinction, the zoo says.
Every year many chicks are abandoned by parents foraging for food. The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, outside Cape Town, usually takes in about 450 over a three-month period. But this year the centre has seen 460 arrive in November alone.
As part of the appeal, which has so far raised £1,330, the zoo contacted John Lewis, whose 2014 Christmas advert about a young boy seeking a friend for his solitary penguin, Monty, has been watched nearly 18m times on YouTube.
A spokeswoman for the zoo said: “We did approach them at the end of last week about the possibility of some help, in the light of their Christmas advertisement. We asked if there was anything they could do, whether in terms of money, or just some support to help raise the profile of the campaign. They were perfectly polite, and wished us the best of luck, but said that they were unable to help.”
While the zoo might have been surprised it is not disheartened and The zoo hopes that an imminent gala dinner will boost the appeal. “We’re just going hell for leather, trying to raise as much as we can,” the spokeswoman said.
A John Lewis spokeswoman said the store received large numbers of charitable requests and had already partnered with the wildlife charity WWF to help to protect the Antarctic habitat of Adélie penguins, the species on which Monty and his new companion, Mabel, are based.
She said: “All profits from the CD sales of our Christmas advert single, Real Love, by Tom Odell, go to WWF’s Adopt a Penguin programme. Since the campaign launched on 6 November more than 1,500 adoptions have been [requested], a significant increase from this time last year.
“As I’m sure Bristol zoo explained, we passed on our apologies that we are unable to help on this occasion and wish them the best of luck with their campaign.”
Francois Louw, a coordinator at the South Africa rehab centre, said the chicks from colonies at Stony Point and Boulder’s Beach had also been arriving in worse condition than usual. “There are slightly weaker and therefore we have to protect them for a longer time. A large amount weren’t in a great state,” he said.
It is not clear why the chicks are being abandoned in greater numbers, but the centre believes that most likely the parents were not finding fish earlier in the year so delayed the breeding season.
The centre has also been hit by the high price of fish at this time of year. A-grade pilchards, of which the conservationists feed 25 tonnes to the chicks each season, have risen in price from about 13-14 rand (75-80p) a kilo to 17.25 rand. “Coupled with the added cost for treating the slightly worse chicks, we are in quite a squeeze,” Louw said.