But Milnthorpe’s Lakeland Wildlife Oasis didn’t rush to hastily fling open the doors. It’s not that keepers and animals weren’t cheering at the news, but they’ve been taking a few more days to finalise exciting visitor improvements which the lockdown has unexpectedly enabled.
Zoo manager Jack Williams said: “It’s fantastic news, but it’s so important we do it right, that we’ve got July 4 as our open date.
"Throughout lockdown, core staff have been working nonstop to prepare for fully Covid-19 compliant reopening.
"We saw, and took, the opportunity to go further and make exciting major improvements to many of our facilities and exhibits. Just a final tidy, check, signoff, and we are ready to go!”
With the charity’s main source of income switched off, the zoo had to make the tough decision to temporarily furlough most staff, leaving manager Jack, keepers Grace, Matt and Neil, supported by founders Jo and Dave Marsden committed to looking after their precious residents, while maintaining distancing and hygiene measures.
In between feeding, cleaning, health checks and enrichment activities for the zoo’s two thousand creatures, they rolled up their sleeves to make the changes required to ensure visitors could return in safety and comfort.
Even knocking down walls to create a separate entrance, exit and wide, one-way walkways, created an unmissable opportunity to bring forward long-term improvement plans.
Returning visitors will enjoy the zoo’s fully refurbished ‘evolutionary journey’ walkway, leading to an aquarium corridor featuring three new enormous marine exhibit tanks.
New reptile enclosures in the tropical hall increase face to face interaction, and the zoo also promises the patter of tiny paws, with new spring babies!
Zoos have always been scrupulous about hygiene, with new mascot Sally the Safety Salamander pointing out increased handwashing stations and easy distancing paw-prints on the floor, to make these important guidelines as clear and fun for youngsters, as possible.
With most animals missing visitor interaction and entertainment, Jack, Grace, Matt and Neil have been busy giving them extra attention, food puzzles, and refreshed enclosure layouts.
It’s important to get them ready for a return to the zoo’s usual level of noise and bustle, so over the next few days, keepers will be deliberately trying to make lots more clatter!
With the indoor café initially remaining closed, visitors will be encouraged to drink their takeaway coffees in front of the ‘miniature monkeys’ exhibit, as these sociable primates have missed outside company the most.
While popular group keeper talks are suspended, these will be played on 10 large TV screens around the site, so no one will miss out, and keepers will of course be available for the usual queries and chat.
Firmly rooted in the local community, the zoo has been hosting virtual lockdown Q&A sessions with Ripley School.
Aware that the zoo will be an important social, educational, and exercise-led resource for many families as lockdown eases, keepers have even built an onsite classroom, equipped and ready to go when guidelines allow.
Pausing for breath, Jack said: “Of course it’s been incredibly tough and scary, but belief and our amazing supporters have not only got us through, but revealed silver linings.
"Thank you to everyone whose generosity (through food donations and an incredible £20,000 fundraising campaign) has enabled us to keep going.
“We value our staff and visitors too much to risk shortcuts. We are exceeding official government and zoo guidelines. Everyone here is so excited to be unveiling an even better zoo, we cannot wait to welcome our wonderful visitors back through the gates again!”
The Lakeland Wildlife Oasis is planning to be open by Saturday, July 4, when advance booking will be required as part of social distancing guidelines.
To keep up to date with their opening preparations, see www.wildlifeoasis.co.uk, ‘Lakeland Wildlife Oasis’ on Facebook.