More than £1 million has been raised for one of the UK’s largest zoos after it revealed it was fighting for its future due to an indefinite closure.
Chester Zoo bosses launched the Save Our Zoo campaign on Wednesday and revealed the attraction was “at risk of extinction” and could end the year £24 million in debt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Social distancing measures have been put in place at the 128-acre site but the Government has yet to give zoos the green light to reopen.
By Thursday, a JustGiving page set up by the zoo had raised more than £1 million.
Jamie Christon, the zoo’s chief operating officer said: “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.”
Edward Timpson, Conservative MP for the Cheshire constituency of Eddisbury, said he had written to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to ask for the zoo to be able to reopen as soon as possible.
In the letter, he said: “I have been visiting Chester Zoo with my family ever since I was a child and so I know there are many good reasons why it is the most visited zoo in the country, as well as a much-loved local asset.”
Cheshire Labour MPs Chris Matheson, Justin Madders and Mike Amesbury also wrote to Mr Eustice and, in a joint letter, said they had been “inundated” with emails from constituents upset about the risk of losing the zoo.
The letter said: “Whilst it is fully recognised that there is a need to reopen business in a safe manner, it seems illogical that Chester Zoo must remain closed while ticketed gardens are reopening and non-essential retail will be opening in just a few weeks.”
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “We understand the challenges faced by zoos and aquariums during these unprecedented times but it’s vital that we do not move too quickly in reopening to ensure public health is protected.
“We have provided a £14 million support fund to ensure zoos are able to continue to care for their animals. Alongside this, work is ongoing to understand how and when zoos and aquariums may be able to reopen in a safe way to the public whilst maintaining social distancing.”