Colchester Zoo’s Managing Director reflects on the past year & looks forward to re-opening

When in years to come people will consider what we have all gone through in the past twelve months, opinions may be split but it is true, all over the world, pain and sorrow has been experienced by many.

As I reflect what we have been through over the last year together;

It is the period when well over 100,000 people suffered beyond belief and died in this country alone due to this dreadful virus.

It is the period when we really took note, understood and cherished the task of the NHS, rather than take it for granted. The NHS is not a machine, it is made of people who have made great sacrifices, some losing their life trying to save others.

It is hoped that from now on, never again will the NHS running cost be a political matter.

It is the period when families, the young and the old, had to be separated and sometimes sadly lost.

It is the period when the high street was empty, shops of all sizes closed and changed certainly for the foreseeable future if not forever.

It is the period when thousands of people lost their jobs and were left faced with an uncomfortable, uncertain future.

It is the period when schools had to be closed leaving children’s future hanging in the balance.

It is the period when starving children came into the political agenda because of cost-cutting.

It is the period when people clapped to express their respect and gratefulness to the many acts of heroism by the many who were described as The Front-Line Workers.

It is the period when, during the loss and the pain, we saw so much kindness and generosity.

It is the period when we began to discover and perhaps understand better how much mental illness affected so many.

The pandemic has brought destruction to our society, to our lives and it will remain in our minds forever.

From the Zoo’s point of view we have struggled, we have had to beg, and the generosity of people came to our rescue so we have survived. We have learnt a great deal but also lost a great deal too.

The reports we receive from the wild is that without the help of the wide zoo community animals have suffered and paid a heavy price. The UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve, our flagship conservation project in South Africa, has experienced an increase in animal poaching. People within the local community lost their jobs, Furlough there is not what we have here, so children are starving. There is no money in the pocket so one of the ways to put food on the table is to turn to poaching.

We have had to increase our security operations for the safety of our animals which is a huge task given the size of UmPhafa.

Even without any income or Furlough, all our reserve staff have had their pay so they can survive during these harsh times and able to feed their family.

Our income is at present rock bottom, but running a zoo, even closed, still costs thousands of pounds every day, for the animals care and comfort. Thankfully we had always been very careful with our spending and whilst most of our cash reserve has now disappeared, we have, up until now, been able to survive helped by many financial donations and other acts of kindness.

So, when we think of this period at the Zoo, we will think of it as a period of despair, a period of worry, sleepless nights, even tears, but at the same time experienced the most amazing level of kindness and generosity by so many. Also, we will always think of the incredible team spirit and bond we have experienced too.

Survival has been an extremely hard experience, like it has been for many other families and businesses. The same question comes around every day, what will tomorrow be like?

The levels of infection at the moment gives us some hope. With spring around the corner perhaps there will be daylight at the end of the tunnel.

We hope that later this month the Prime Minister will be in a position to give a green light of hope for March or April, so we will be able to proudly re-open our doors.

When we re-open we need your visits, not only will we enjoy your company but we have also conducted a low-level research analysis and strongly believe that many species of animals, because of the change of behaviour over the past months, have missed you as their daily therapy.

So please come along but understand there will be limits to the number of visitors we can allow in at one time, so please also be patient and understanding.

Since the Pandemic started there has been so much support, messages, letters and emails received. We thank you so much, we will cherish every single one and will do our best to repay this kindness.

We will remember this period as a period that has changed our lives, maybe our beliefs too but it must also remind us of the kindness, the generosity, and even some heroism of many men and women.

Never should we forget this and let us all learn to be kind and respectful to our neighbour but also to Mother Nature so our children and grandchildren will be able to live and prosper in peace.

We hope to see you soon.

Dr DA Tropeano OBE
Managing Zoo Director

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