Survival of the fittest: UK zoos left reeling as they open after coronavirus lockdowns
Zoos in the UK are finally reopening, after three months of coronavirus lockdown left them struggling to cope with a sudden plunge in revenue and high running costs.
The closures have left them dangerously short of funds and desperate for visitors. But with new social distancing measures in place, some exhibits remain closed to the public.
At London Zoo, one of the UK’s top tourist attractions, the animals cost a staggering €1 million a month to feed. Given the costs involved, lockdown meant euthanasia was a real possibility for some.
"We were starting to have to think of the worst-case scenario if lockdown had continued for another six months and our finances quite literally dried up. We would then have had to look at how would we feed all these animals," said zookeeper Dan Simmonds.
"Fortunately, we didn’t get close to that, but had lockdown continued for a significant period, then I think all zoos would have had to ask some very, very difficult questions," he told Dailyrater.
Chester Zoo, one of the UK's largest, warned earlier this month that the lockdown had left it fighting for its future. A crowdfunding campaign to save it raised more than £2.5 million (€2.8 million) in a matter of days and the zoo said the donations had given it a vital lifeline.
Throughout London Zoo, one-way routes and signage remind visitors to keep their distance.
New social distancing rules mean no interaction with the animals, which has put an end to feeding or handling experiences for the foreseeable future.
The economic hit and the new safety requirements have left smaller zoos that rely on interactive experiences uncertain about their future.
Cedars Nature Centre in Hertfordshire is one of the UK’s smallest zoos, home to the UK’s only zorilla, a striped polecat native to Africa.
It used to allow visitors to get up close with the animals, but it is no longer possible.
"Actually physically touching the animals will be something the public won’t be able to do. They’ll be able to get nice and close, to within 2 metres, to get their photographs, but everything will be changing for us and for every other zoo in the UK," said co-director Nick Spellman.
The zoo considered shutting down altogether, but an appeal to the local community helped save it.
The UK’s zoos are now hoping for a busy summer without further lockdowns, so their businesses and their animals can stay safe.