Delight as Dudley Zoo reopens to visitors
"It has been a long and trying 12 weeks, but it was fantastic to be able to reopen our gates and finally welcome visitors on site."
Those are the words of Dudley Zoo and Castle direct Derek Grove as visitors could return to the attraction on Monday for the first time since mid-March.
The Castle Hill attraction had last week issued a rally cry for funding support – after bosses revealed it was losing £100,000 a week while they were closed.
A Just Giving page, set up by Dudley Zoo and Castle, has now nearly reached £30,000.
But last week Prime Minister Boris John announced that zoos, wilflife parks and safari parks could reopen to the public from Monday, in the latest easing of the coronavirus lockdown.
As Dudley Zoo and Castle reopened on Monday, visitor numbers were limited to 300 for the first few days – with six timed slots available throughout the day.
Other safety measures 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.
Indoor animal exhibits at the attraction will remain closed for the time-being and children's playgrounds will be unavailable.
Mr Grove said: "Pre-booking sales have been extremely busy and we are delighted to have already sold out for the forthcoming fortnight and we will be looking into safely extending the daily visitor limits.
“Over the last three months we have been really heartened by the enormous public reaction to our plight, with messages of support sent from across the globe and thousands of pounds donated to our Justgiving page.
“However, we might be open again and generating some income from ticket sales, but now, more than ever, we need support.
“During lockdown we had to carry on, as our zoo keeping team continued to provide and care for our animals as normal. But without any money coming in, we were forced to dip into our redevelopment reserves to survive, which will inevitably have an impact on our planned animal projects going forward."
He added: “But for now, it’s business as usual, albeit with social distancing safety procedures in place, as we look forward to introducing excited families to our wonderful wildlife once more.”