Zoos to reopen with special measures - but keepers say they are 'not out of the woods'

10 June 2020, 14:25

Some zoos says they will need continued support after the pandemic caused severe financial hardships
Some zoos says they will need continued support after the pandemic caused severe financial hardships. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Zoos are set to reopen next week with special measures on social distancing and enclosures - but some keepers say the future is still uncertain after "severe financial damage".

Boris Johnson will announce later on Wednesday an easing of coronavirus rules for zoos in England, meaning they can open on Monday under certain conditions.

Entry to indoor enclosures -such as reptile houses - will be prohibited, while onsite cafes will be takeaway only.

Yorkshire Wildlife Park's Cheryl Williams told LBC News "the park will look different" when it reopens with a capacity of a third less than usual, and with ban on crowd gatherings.

Glass windows where people would usually be able to look into an animal enclosure have also been barricaded off.

But, according to Ms Williams, it is the financial hardship amid the outbreak that has been particularly difficult to contend with.

She estimated the park had lost around £5 million since it was forced to close, which is added to a monthly "financial drain" of £300,000 to keep the park basics running.

The Yorkshire park is not the only one in the country to be brought under strain by closures caused by the pandemic - as zoos in London, Chester and Whipsnade had also warned the government that permanent closure could be possible if they weren't able to reopen soon.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson to announce reopening of zoos in latest lockdown easing

Jamie Christon, the chief operating officer at Chester Zoo, said they had been "in despair" a week earlier as it was unsure if the business would survive a reopening at all.

He warned: "This isn't over just yet though. There's no denying that the zoo has suffered severe financial damage over the past three months and the road to recovery will be long and uncertain.

"However, we now start the process of rebuilding this great charity zoo, as we prepare to safely welcome back visitors through our gates - albeit in much, much fewer numbers - from Monday, June 15.

"We are in no doubt that this is why now, today on the 89th birthday of Chester Zoo, we have hope that we will survive."

Dominic Jermey, director general of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) which runs London and Whipsnade Zoos, said they were "raring to go", and hoped tickets would be able to be booked by Friday.

He added: "Everyone will need to book so we can manage capacity. We hope the support we've seen so far for our zoos translates to visitors coming in to support us further."

READ MORE: Boris Johnson braces nation for 'many job losses' as impact of pandemic emerge

Despite the green light being given for Monday, some zoos are estimating a later opening date as they continue to make their parks safe for visitors.

Banham Zoo in Norfolk and Africa Alive in Suffolk are planning to open on 1 July after a deep clean, while Marwell Zoo in Hampshire is also striving for a July open date.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson to set out plans to 'rebuild Britain' after covid-19 lockdown

Dr Christoph Schwitzer, chairman of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Biaza), said there no illusions of the challenges ahead for its members.

He said: ""Many of our members, including aquariums and tropical houses are not able to open and members in other nations remain under lockdown."

"We will continue to make our case across the nations as well as pushing for urgent financial aid to be made available from governments. We are not out of the woods yet."