Chester Zoo ‘fighting for its future’ due to coronavirus pandemic

One of the UK’s largest zoos is “at risk of extinction” after losing millions of pounds as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thursday, 4th June 2020, 7:47 am
Updated Thursday, 4th June 2020, 7:48 am

Chester Zoo bosses say they are fighting for its future as the conservation charity could end 2020 more than £24 million in debt.

Managers say the Cheshire site is “Covid secure” and they would be able to limit numbers and enforce social distancing in a way public beaches, parks and beauty spots cannot, but the Government has not given zoos the green light to reopen.

Jamie Christon, the zoo’s chief operating officer said: “As the UK’s biggest and most popular charity zoo, we’ve tried to stay positive during this pandemic.

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“Our conservationists have continued to prevent extinction, our virtual days have cheered up the nation, and our learning resources have helped out thousands of homeschooling families. We wanted to remain a beacon of hope.

“But now, the Government has ordered us to stay closed indefinitely and Chester Zoo is very much fighting for its future.

“This change in law has flicked a switch for us and, heartbreakingly, our lights are now flickering.

“Not being able to open, despite being a huge outdoor site with all the necessary safety measures in place, is having a devastating impact on the future survival of this much-loved charity zoo.

“We’re heading towards debt in excess of £24 million by the end of 2020 – this will financially cripple us.

“We absolutely refuse to cut corners when it comes to caring for the animals. But ensuring that each and every one of the 35,000 animals at the zoo is receiving the best possible care, every single day, comes at a huge financial cost.

“Not being able to open, with such massive outgoings, puts the future of the zoo itself at risk of extinction.”

Launching the Save Our Zoo appeal on Wednesday, the zoo said the loss of 97% of its income from visitors was having a “devastating impact”.

The visitor attraction needs £1.6 million a month to keep going, including £465,000 a month to care for the animals, a spokesman said.

More than two million people visited the 128-acre zoo in 2019 and “virtual tours” have been shown online during lockdown.

Mr Christon said: “While we see pictures of public beaches, parks and UK beauty spots busy with people, our zoo – a huge outdoor space, with 16km of pathways, and numerous measures in place to ensure that we can provide a safe environment for guests – sits empty.”

The charity also has 80 global projects to prevent the extinction of species in the UK and across the world.

Directors and staff have taken voluntary pay cuts, half of the workforce has been placed on furlough and development projects have been put on hold as the zoo tries to offset the financial loss.

Mr Christon said: “Chester Zoo contributes over £83.1 million to the regional economy, supports over 1,700 jobs, protects wildlife in more than 30 countries around the world and engages over 150,000 young people – the future of our planet – every year.

“At a time when global environmental pressures escalate, the seriousness of losing a conservation charity cannot be stressed enough.”

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “We understand the challenges faced by zoos and aquariums during these unprecedented times but it’s vital that we do not move too quickly in reopening to ensure public health is protected.

“We have provided a £14 million support fund to ensure zoos are able to continue to care for their animals. Alongside this, work is ongoing to understand how and when zoos and aquariums may be able to reopen in a safe way to the public whilst maintaining social distancing.”

A spokesman for Chester Zoo said the Government’s Zoos Support Fund was providing help to smaller organisations but that the larger charities were not eligible for support.

To find out more go to www.chesterzoo.org/saveourzoo.