By Christine Lavelle
ONE of Scotland’s biggest tourist attractions is facing a staffing crisis after visitor numbers dwindled this year.
Bosses at Edinburgh Zoo are looking to cut around a quarter of their 200 full-time staff – with 50 jobs now in danger.
Each year, the zoo attracts more than 636,000 paying visitors – second only to Edinburgh Castle – but a zoo spokeswoman said that figure is likely to be much lower for 2010, and that current staff numbers are “no longer sustainable.”
She said: “The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is considering a proposed restructure of the organisation which is likely to result in a reduction of staff numbers during autumn 2010.
“This is due to a downturn in visitors to Edinburgh Zoo in 2010 brought on by the poor economic climate and bad weather at critical times during the year.
“The current staffing levels at Edinburgh Zoo are now no longer sustainable, based on our visitor number projections for next year.
“It would be inappropriate to comment any further as this matter is subject to a full consultation exercise.”
Glasgow Caledonian’s Moffat Centre released a report earlier this year which stated that wildlife and animal attractions had recorded a year-on-year fall in visitor numbers of 12.5 per cent.
The proposed cut in staff numbers has raised concerns about the £72 million expansion planned at the attraction.
The City of Edinburgh Council gave permission earlier this year for up to 80 houses to be built on the land to the west of the zoo, which would raise cash for the zoo’s master plan.
But the zoo’s owner, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, would like to swap a council-owned plot to the east of its current site for a piece of land to the north-east, and says it is the only way the zoo can push ahead with its 20-year modernising plan.
Donald Gorrie, a former MSP and secretary of the Friends of Corstorphine Hill – the group fighting the expansion plans – said he hoped financial difficulties may make bosses at the zoo more open to talks.
He said: “It might make them more ready to have sensible discussions rather than bulldoze their proposals through.”
Margaret Smith, MSP for Edinburgh West, said: “The cuts are obviously concerning.”
Councillor Paul Edie, who represents Corstorphine and Murrayfield, said the cuts were a “tragedy for the people involved.”
He said: “A lot of the staff live in the local area, and that level of lay-offs is very distressing.”