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Zoos and wildlife parks welcome backing to reopen from Monday

By Dayna Farrington | Dudley | Attractions | Published:

Zoos and wildlife park are celebrating after it was announced they could reopen their gates from next week.

Dudley Zoo and Castle director Derek Grove

Boris Johnson is expected to announce the measures later today in the latest easing of the coronavirus lockdown.

Animal parks across the UK, including Chester and Twycross zoos, had already warned they may have to close indefinitely without urgent funding.

They join attractions across the UK set to reopen, including Staffordshire's Alton Towers that is set to open to the public from July 14.

It was announced today that Weston Park would be reopening next week.

The park and gardens will open on Tuesday, June 16, with visitors required to pre-book their arrival time slot in advance.

The Black Country Living Museum is still planning to open in August despite fellow attractions reopening in the coming weeks.

Dudley Zoo and Castle had issued a rally cry for funding support – after the park revealed it was losing £100,000 a week while they were closed. A Just Giving page, set up by the attraction, had so far raised more than £20,000.

Derek Grove, zoo director, said they were delighted to be opening on Monday after an 'incredibly frustrating' few weeks.

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Tickets to visit the Castle Hill attraction next week will go on sale in the next few days, via their website. There will be 300 person limit for the first few days – which will then gradually increase.

There will be six timed slots available during the day, and only those with pre-booked tickets will be allowed in.

Other safety measures at Dudley Zoo and Castle will include social distancing queue lines, a one-way system around the site marked by painted floor arrows, hand sanitiser stations around the 40-acre site and guests will be encouraged to bring their own picnics.

Star Witness Instagram pic of a yawning tiger at Dudley Zoo. MUST CREDIT: Colin Buswell/@colinbuswell44

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Indoor animal exhibits at the attraction will remain closed for the time-being and children's playgrounds will be unavailable.

Mr Grove said: "We are delighted to be able to reopen Dudley Zoo and Castle on Monday.

"It’s been an incredibly frustrating few weeks, but it’s great that the Government has finally listened to the plight of the zoo community, who have faced financial ruin during the lockdown as we continued our usual day-to-day care of our exotic animal collection.

"But now, more than ever, we need the continued support of the public as we will still be enduring severe financial pressures for many months to come from the lack of generated income over the last 12 weeks.

"During that time we have been working hard to ensure visitors can return for a fun and safe day out at Dudley Zoo and Castle and we have strict safety measures ready and in place to protect our staff, animals and public, which we urge visitors to adhere to.

"We look forward to welcoming everyone back on Monday.”

Wild Zoological Park in Bobbington had been preparing to safely reopen this month until the Government passed the new legislation.

But bosses welcomed the latest news – adding that they were working on their masterplan for reopening, including new safety measures.

Wild Zoological Park, in Bobbington, has been closed during the lockdown

A statement on their Facebook page said: "Finally! We are so happy with tonight’s [Tuesday] news that the Government have reversed their decision to close all zoos and have allowed us to open along with other shops and public spaces.

"We have already been working with the team at South Staffordshire Council to create a Covid secure environment for our guests.

"Thank you so so much to everyone that has shared our plight, contributed to our cause and signed the petition. This ruling would not have been over-turned if it weren’t for you.

"We will repost our master plan for reopening tomorrow with details of the new safety systems in place and specific dates for our soft opening."

West Midland Safari Park, based in Bewdley, has also welcomed the news.

A spokesperson from West Midland Safari Park said: “As a major family attraction here in the West Midlands we are delighted that safari parks and zoos have the go-ahead to reopen, and for us that will be Monday 15 June.

“It will be fantastic for families when we reopen, but we will be doing so with various safety measures in place.

"We will only be opening our drive-through facility so guests can enjoy seeing our animals again, including our growing lion cubs.

“Our park rides and walk-through exhibits will remain closed as we await further clarification from the Government.

"However, we believe this will happen very soon but with strict social distancing measures in place.

“To help us manage the reopening safely we will be limiting visitor numbers and asking guests to pre-book tickets online.

"Tickets will be on sale from tomorrow through www.wmsp.co.uk.”

Leicestershire’s Twycross Zoo had said it costs more than half a million pounds a month to keep it operating and providing the high quality of care for their endangered animals.

Twycross Zoo’s, CEO Dr Sharon Redrobe OBE, said: “The last few months have been a real rollercoaster, but the support we have received has been humbling and has left us yet more determined to fight every battle needed to ensure the survival of our 57-year old zoo.

“This is an important day and one we will never forget, while we are delighted to be able to reopen safely next week it is only the first step in what will be a long and uncertain road to recovery, but this decision gives us hope.

"We need to continue to work hard now to secure vital Government funding for large zoos, to aid in the financial crisis we find ourselves in and protect our future."

The attraction will reopen on Monday for online bookings only with a restricted number of visitors each day.

Karen Clarke, chief operating officer at Twycross Zoo, commented: “We are delighted to be finally welcoming visitors back to our award-winning zoo, though we will be remaining extremely cautious and keeping our staff, visitors and animals safe, will remain our top priority.

Twycross Zoo

"We have been preparing for this day for some time and have implemented considerable changes to ensure we are a safe place to visit.

“Visitors and members have shown us enormous support during this period, and it will be wonderful to welcome them back safely to enjoy a day out next week.”

Guests will be directed via a one-way route around the zoo to help keep visitors evenly spread while ensuring they can enjoy everything on offer.

Protection screens have been installed at all pay points and information points, and social distancing markers and signage are used across the site to help remind people of the importance of keeping a safe distance.

All food and refreshments will be served as takeaway options and some indoor areas and play areas are temporarily closed.

There will also be hygiene points and handwashing stations around the 100-acre outdoor site.

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

Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, Louise Gittins, said: “I’m delighted with the announcement that Government has reversed its decision, and allowed Chester Zoo to re-open safely.

"It is right that this new legislation, which did not take in to account Chester Zoo’s carefully thought out measures to keep people safe, is now to be reassessed.

"This is testament to the global response from the zoo’s supporters locally and across the world, who know what a precious asset Chester Zoo is, and the contribution it makes to fighting extinction.

A rare hornbill at Chester Zoo

"Last night’s decision really shows what an impact we as a community can have when our voices are heard.

"Officers from our Environmental Health team visited the zoo and carefully scrutinised its plans for re-opening.

"We will now work with the zoo to continue to support the safety of its visitors, and help them to have a great day out.

"A visit to the zoo is a wonderful reward for the commitment that people have shown in respecting public health advice so far."

More than £2 million has been raised to ensure the future of the zoo via the attraction's Just Giving page.

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.

Yesterday it was revealed that Iceland Supermarket had adopted all of the zoo's penguins in a bid to raise funds and save it from permanent closure.

Speaking about the impact of lockdown restrictions and the pandemic last week, Jamie Christon, the Chester 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.

Baby penguins hatched at Chester Zoo

“Our conservationists have continued to prevent extinction, our virtual days have cheered up the nation, and our learning resources have helped out thousands of home-schooling 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.”

Dr Christoph Schwitzer, chairman of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums added: “It is a reflection of the hard work of the BIAZA community that we are able to see this change in England. Over the last few months, working with our members and other industry leaders we have contacted hundreds of officials and politicians, pushed every button we can so that Government realises the urgency of the situation across our diverse membership.”

“BIAZA is not under any illusions of the challenges we still face. Many of our members, including aquariums and tropical houses are not able to open and members in other nations remain under lockdown. We will continue to make our case across the nations as well as pushing for urgent financial aid to be made available from Governments. We are not out of the woods yet.”

Hoo Farm in Telford will be reopening its doors to the public next week.

Will Dorrell, partner of Hoo Farm, said: "We’re delighted that common sense has prevailed and we’ll be able to reopen our gates to everyone from next week.

"We would like to thank everyone for all their help during the past three months, we’ve received donations from local farmers, visitors, butchers, greengrocers and even people from abroad who haven’t ever visited us.

"Without all this help we would have struggled to make it through. We look forward to seeing everyone in the near future."

Hoo Farm in Telford will be reopening its doors to the public next week.

Will Dorrell, partner of Hoo Farm, said: "We’re delighted that common sense has prevailed and we’ll be able to reopen our gates to everyone from next week.

"We would like to thank everyone for all their help during the past three months, we’ve received donations from local farmers, visitors, butchers, greengrocers and even people from abroad who haven’t ever visited us.

"Without all this help we would have struggled to make it through. We look forward to seeing everyone in the near future."

Zookeeper Alison Bridgwater with Kovu the meerkat at Hoo Farm

The farm is one of the many zoos which has turned to the public for help, launching an online crowdfunding campaign to feed its animals.

The appeal is close to reaching £10,000.

Speaking about the pandemic, Will said: “The biggest challenge has been the uncertainty around when we can reopen.

“Financially it’s been a huge burden, but we’ve managed to cut our costs and the various donations we’ve received, along with government schemes, have helped hugely.

“Another, slightly different challenge, has been helping the animals cope with not seeing people. All of them are used to seeing lots of people daily and many of them thrive on the attention they received.

“Our keepers and volunteers have had to find lots more ways of entertaining them.”

Will Dorrell with Lycan the wolf and Czechoslovakian wolfdog Tala at Hoo Farm

Forced closures and loss of income could not have come at a worse time for Exotic Zoo, which is in the process of moving from its Priorslee base to Telford Town Park.

Scott Adams, owner, said: "Since the pandemic hit we not only lost the income from the zoo but all our other income streams that supported our work like community education and animal assisted therapy.

This came at the worst time for us as we were in the process of moving the zoo to a new home in Telford Town Park.

"This move has also been delayed meaning we will be unable to open the same time as other English zoos.

"Though this time most of our over heads have stayed the same meaning each day makes survival header and harder.

"Unlike most zoos we made the decision not to do any fund raising as we thought most people were in the same dire situation.

Scott Adams with some baby genets born at Telford Exotic Zoo

"We have tried to tap in to the government backed loans to keep us going but of course this will see us leave the pandemic in more and more debt.

"With things easing the zoo build is moving forward and we are looking forward to future even though we have been going through a time of high stress and uncertainty.

"The Exotic Zoo team has been amazing in helping us move forward and keeping all the animals that live a the zoo happy and healthy.

"We have even had some exciting zoo babies born while we have been closed.

"I have many friends that work in zoos around the UK and it has been a difficult time for everyone, I'm really happy most zoos will get to open from next week securing jobs and zoos future as well as allowing them to continue their valuable conservation work around the world in the most vulnerable habitats."

Tony Scott at Scotty's Donkeys and Animal Park at Apley Farm Shop

Scotty’s Donkey and Animal Park, in Norton, between Bridgnorth and Telford, is another popular attraction which was forced to launch a fundraiser to ensure it could feed its dozens of animals.

Having suffered from a loss of custom during the severe flooding earlier this year, owner Tony Scott has had to bear the burden of the pandemic without government support, being ineligible for financial grants. The 68-year-old launched a fundraising appeal which surpassed £10,000, but warned the future “remains bleak”.

Dayna Farrington

By Dayna Farrington
Senior reporter based at Wolverhampton

Reporter for the Express & Star based at Wolverhampton.

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