Posted April 6, 2021 in News
We look forward to re-opening on Monday 12th April
In the last twelve months we have experienced intensive drama suitable to be made into a book or even as a TV documentary, it has been so dramatic.
Not many people, outside of our close environment, have been able to experience the emotions we have gone through over this challenging period, not just us here at Colchester, but in many locations.
The joy of normality in our zoo life was shattered and replaced by shock and concern when we were told to close the zoo down.
Whilst we had experienced closure with foot and mouth in 2001, the fact that the whole country was to be in lockdown meant this would have serious consequences. So, in desperation we first explored our financial position.
Firstly, we looked at our assets, then how much it would cost us daily to continue to look after the animals and continue keeping the zoo alive, how much do we have in reserve, how long can we survive for in this way? Where can we make cuts? This was reasonably easy to figure out but an extremely painful exercise.
The first cuts implemented was to all our support, financial and technical, to the many conservation projects we help to run throughout the world. We had to carry supporting our UmPhafa Nature Reserve in South Africa with the assistance of our charity organisation, Action for the Wild, which is of course funded by the zoo.
The next cuts came with our capital projects like the new education centre, costing well over £1.5 million which was cancelled. Many other planned improvements we had projected were also stopped such as new toilet facilities.
Unfortunately, these cuts also meant we had to sadly let go some of our staff, particularly within the maintenance department. This was not an easy decision and the whole process was very emotional. Each year we are usually used to the opportunity of increasing the number of staff we have to enable us to improve our product but the past year has been a scene of despair which we have never previously experienced.
We remained responsible for the welfare of all our animal collection consisting of cleaning, feeding, heating and veterinary services. A huge cost under normal circumstances let alone through this time with no income in sight.
We could not see the Government coming to our rescue, and whilst some funding became available, we would not qualify. We were grateful for the furlough scheme, business rates suspension and later the VAT reduction which have been extremely helpful. However, our concern became pain, desperation and much later questioning where and how the future would lie for Colchester Zoo.
I found myself praying to the Gods without realising, praying we would have a chance to survive and as a human being, make a more of a valid contribution in the future. These were dark days.
Out of this came help from many, all unexpected, from money raised doing extraordinary things to providing food for the animals, receiving messages of affection and to stay strong. All of which gave us strength, hope and energy to look towards the future with the knowledge that what we do is good and appreciated.
Without this outside help I think we may have caved into a state of desperation. Now we look forward.
We have done the very best we could afford with our limited team and resources available to give you something new when we re-open with minor changes but we will continue firstly with small projects as it will be a while before we can afford big changes, but the good days will return and we will be back again.
Re-opening on Monday 12th April will bring some issues, our daily number of visitors will be limited to comply with current restrictions, therefore you may be disappointed as we appreciate it will be difficult to get a ticket. We still need income from visitors so will share our daily attendance between paying visitors and Gold Passholders. Only our outdoor areas will be allowed to be open and catering facilities will be take-away only. We hope by May restrictions will be less severe so not long before normality will return and we will be able to again smile because we are doing a good job and delivering an excellent experience.
I hope you will see and agree we are doing our best for everyone but at the same time we need to stay alive and positive building up some cash reserve just in case there is another twist around the corner.
From me, my family, my colleagues who makes Colchester Zoo what it is, thank you for your past support, thank you for your support now and support in the future.
We are very dedicated to our mission to all our animals and to you our audience. It is time to stand with pride looking towards the future with hope, kindness and the knowledge that we can all do our share to ensure COVID belongs to the past.
Dr DA Tropeano OBE
Colchester Zoo Managing Zoo Director