Zoos need to re-open soon
for a fighting chance for survival

Most zoos and attractions are preparing to re-open but there is a clear lack of clarity and direction from the authorities explaining to the Tourism world what is expected of zoos and when, so we can be ready and equipped. 

Many, if not most zoos, are now on their death bed after being closed for such a long period of time without any income and it is very likely there will be casualties. 

For Colchester Zoo, loss of income has run into millions because of the closure but the real figure will only be known next year if we survive or fail. It is not just what we have lost up to now, it is what we are going to lose in the next few months, this summer, at Halloween and Christmas for example. 

We are now in the middle of a battle but when we re-open the war will carry on and it will be difficult to win. 

Zoos expect to only achieve 30 to 50% of normal attendance on re-opening which would barely allow us to survive, providing we make massive cuts to our costs. We expect retail and catering, a necessary income to help our survival, to reduce by at least 70% on previous year’s figures. 

Social distancing measures within the park will ensure numbers are down but the cost of maintaining all these regulations will need to increase to ensure we comply and remain safe for visitors. 

Most zoos including ourselves are involved in conservation throughout the world, many organisations rely on our help and funding. Colchester Zoo funds a Private Nature Reserve in South Africa named UmPhafa. So, at a time when the whole world is fighting for ‘Black Lives Matter’, we support this movement as our support to our local workers on UmPhafa and their families is a key element of our conservation activities on the reserve. Without vital conservation funding our work with the local communities and animal populations will undoubtedly suffer.

Colchester Zoo knows there is an army of dedicated supporters from all over the country who will be in attendance when the zoo re-opens, so a few busy days are expected however the numbers will be far from what has been enjoyed in the past with a limited number of visitors permitted to enter the zoo per day to enable social distancing. 

The future of zoos is a huge concern, we particularly have concern for what the future holds for us here at Colchester Zoo.

Dr Tropeano says, “Here at Colchester Zoo, what we have worked for many years appears to have disappeared in the last three months. We had stability, even if we had ups and downs, we had plans to improve and expand, we had hope and we had determination to achieve our goals.  Now I fear for the future, I fear for our animals, I fear for our employees, I fear we may well fail to win this war.”

It is now time for this Government to risk assess zoos so the decision of how and when zoos can re-open can be resolved. We see no reason why there should be further delay in allowing zoos to re-open. We regularly ask ourselves how can we accept people using packed trains and underground transport, people squashed on a beach or beauty spot, people at demonstrations, but at the same time not allow zoos to be open?

Zoos have been treated like all industrial sites or shops have been treated, this is shameful because zoos are very different. If you run a production line you can furlough your staff, you can turn the heating off, switch the electric off, lock the doors and leave. You can’t do this with a zoo. You need the majority of your keepers to feed, clean and care for the animals. You need your maintenance team to ensure there is no failure, your electrical consumption, heating and water remains the same, so all the costs stay as they were but without any income. 

We urge the Government to consider zoos as a special case needing further help beyond opening and there is a range of financial packages, they can assist with like reducing VAT to 5% as our continental European zoos enjoy. We need help with business rates and a range of other costs until we are able to get back on our feet.

The Government need to confirm a date for us being able to re-open to give us hope for survival. This date for re-opening needs to be as soon as possible to allow us a fighting chance. Helping zoos now will ensure they survive; it will also ensure we can invest in the future and it will ensure jobs remain safe for all our employees.

Dr Tropeano said, “I am extremely sad for the plight of all zoos. We’re suffering from this closure period but continue to fight for survival. In spite of everyone’s help and invaluable generosity, it may not be sufficient unless the government changes course very soon”.

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