With many businesses are under extreme pressure as the state's bushfire emergency continues, one local icon may be the first to close its doors due to the predicted increased threat of natural disasters.
We've had a massive loss of January income, just like everyone else, but finances haven't been the key reason. It's the uncertainty.On the Perch Bird Park's Steve Sass
Tathra's On the Perch Bird Park has been forced to evacuate its site twice in under two years due to bushfire threats, and managers Steve and Linda Sass say the stress of leaving 800 animals behind to face a potential firestorm alone is too much to bear.
"We have always put the animals first, and we can't ensure their safety," manager Steve Sass said.
"This whole bushfire emergency has been additionally bad. The animals really struggled on those days we had no sunlight.
"I know people in the community will be disappointed, but closing is a decision that we have had to make.
"We've had a massive loss of January income, just like everyone else, but finances haven't been the key reason. It's the uncertainty.
"Loans and grants don't solve the problem of keeping everyone in the park safe."
Following the mass-evacuation of thousands of tourists at a time when many businesses rely on making as much as 70 per cent of their annual income, Mr Sass said very few tourists have returned following the lifting of the travel ban.
The couple, who opened the business in late-2015, said given the positioning of the business next to Bournda National Park there is not much they can do to improve its bushfire resilience.
After the March 2018 bushfire came close to devastating the zoo, they purchased equipment including water pumps connected to a nearby dam, but have been told the area would not be defendable during a fire storm.
"We've had great conversations with other zoo owners, but we realise it's more about luck than good management," Mr Sass said.
"We couldn't possibly catch every bird and evacuate them, and it's killing us that we potentially can't keep them safe."
The couple are emotional about the decision to close their doors to the public on February 14, but say their business model has the potential to spread internationally.
Mr Sass said the large walk-in planted aviaries where birds have adapted to people, offered unique personal encounters with endangered species from around the world. Over 70,000 people have visited the zoo since it opened.
"We've created an experience not many places offer. We connect people with nature," Mr Sass said.
"We are hoping this model can continue, because we have been successful in a very short time.
"Our many breeding programs were also highly successful and our work with consevation and education is very well respected. We will be promoting the model with everyone."
Mr Sass said some of the animals will remain locally, with Potoroo Palace near Merimbula agreeing to provide a home for a number of birds.
Ms Sass said zoos have become places where the public can learn about animals and the importance of conservation, especially given the large number of animals killed during the bushfire crisis, and the possibility many common species may now be endangered.
"Now more than ever we need to change community attitudes," Mr Sass said.