London Zoo and its conservation work is at risk of “extinction” due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sir David Attenborough has warned.
The broadcaster and naturalist is fronting an appeal to support the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which runs London and Whipsnade zoos.
The sites have now opened to the public but the closure during lockdown heavily impacted the charity’s income.
Sir David said ZSL faced “its toughest challenge” in 200 years.
In a video appeal, the naturalist spoke of the charity’s “outstanding contribution to conservation”.
Sir David said: “ZSL’s work is vital in driving forward the vision of a world where wildlife thrives.
“Its two zoos, London and Whipsnade, are home to over 20,000 animals, many of which are endangered in the wild, from tiny dart frogs to majestic tigers and everything in between.
“ZSL now faces its toughest challenge to date. Put bluntly, the national institution is now itself at risk of extinction,” he said.
The society, which was founded in 1826, had to close its zoos in March for the first time since World War Two.
Zoos have reopened their gates but social distancing measures have restricted visitor numbers, ZSL said.
Director general Dominic Jermey said the pandemic had put the zoos under “immense financial pressure”.
“The world cannot afford for our work to be stopped; but we need help to keep going.”
“We have no way of recouping what was lost; we’re fighting our biggest challenge in our 200-year history,” Mr Jermey added.