It was the largest coalition ever for the rewilding of captive animals. She had a lot of popular support, but this alternative Zoo project has just collapsed. To understand why, we have to push open the doors of what was to be the laboratory of re-wildness. We are in the Pont-Scorff Zoo including two elephants, two giraffes, Seychelles turtles, in a vast forest with aging enclosures.
This zoo was bought a little less than a year and a half ago by a group of Rewild associations, which intends to act for the welfare of wild animals. Jérôme Pensu, manager at the time of the zoo, is one of the key players in the project and its failure. He explains the original idea: “Set up a reception structure for seized animals whose purpose will not ultimately be captivity. It will either be breeding without presentation to the public or the return to nature. This deprives the zoos of a very large quantity of animals “.
Rewild brings together six associations, including the sea giant Sea Shepherd. In a context of growing concern for animal welfare, it receives significant public support. A call for donations launched by Hugo Clément in December 2019 raised 700,000 euros in less than a week. The Zoo was bought in December 2019. It then becomes the laboratory for organizations that want to propose a counter-project to the classic zoo model. “A zoological park is a commercial company, explains Pierre Douay who is at the origin of the project. The vast majority of people when they buy a ticket to go to a zoo, with the communication that has been made by the zoo, they have a sort of certainty of participating in the conservation and preservation of biodiversity. I say that’s not true. “
But very quickly the coalition breaks up around the objective. The radical communication on the promise to free the animals of the Zoo divides. Three structures remain on board at the time of acquisition. Then, the establishment comes up against the State services. After only a few months of management, they identified shortcomings. The departmental direction of the protection of the populations points out in particular a lack of certification. In September 2020, the prefect of Morbihan signs a formal notice and suspends the opening to the public.
During all this time, Jérôme Pensu is in charge of the Zoo. He considers that he is paying for his offensive against the zoo fortress: “We attacked a fortress and even attacked an absolutely huge lobby. We mounted a big adventure where we underestimated the size of the waves. Sailors can tell you about rogue waves, there is has the ones you can anticipate and there is the ones you didn’t see coming. “
On March 31, an independent report from a Belgian veterinarian confirms the services of the State. He says the animals appear to be in good condition but the management is unsatisfactory. It identifies anomalies and irregularities. He believes that physical and health security is not guaranteed. Several animals have run away. A Jaguarondi was crashed outside by a car to death. Confronted with these management dysfunctions the association, Sea Shepherd tried to regain control of a train on the verge of derailment. In this case the NGO carries the structure at arm’s length. It invested 200,000 euros for the repurchase and 300,000 for the operation. The Pont-Scorff zoo costs between 80,000 and 90,000 euros per month.
To continue the infusion, Sea Shepherd asked to be a majority on the board of directors of Rewild. This triggered a conflict with the manager Jérôme Pensu. The NGO stopped payments after January. The financial model based on patronage cannot work under these conditions. “The project if it encounters difficulties today, it is mainly for human reasons, which I would qualify as an error of casting, explains Lamya Essemlali, President of Sea Shepherd. At the start we make a promise to people. It is that of rehabilitating and sanctifying animals. As long as after a year not a single animal has left the site, it is difficult to motivate donations. “
This story is the failure of the first major rewilding attempt. But those who are at the start of this project want to distinguish between the defended cause and the actors who are involved. Pierre Douay considers that the concept is still applicable: “It’s a story that has failed. We have not been able to prove ourselves. There is a taste of unfinished business.”
The Pont-Scorff zoo was placed in liquidation last March. Jérôme Pensu, whose management was questioned, was dismissed by the commercial court even if he remains on the site. The buyers must declare themselves before Saturday May 1st. Sea Shepherd is in line. Rewild’s cause a year and a half ago touched the public. The association had mobilized 26,000 donors in less than a week. The last inspection by the departmental directorate for the protection of populations on the site was carried out under the protection of the gendarmes.