Before coronavirus hit the UK, Chester Zoo welcomed more than 2m visitors a year but now faces a crippling £24m black hole and has launched a ‘Save Our Zoo’ appeal. Tony McDonough reports
Before the coronavirus epidemic hit the UK Chester Zoo had established itself as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK – today it faces a fight for survival.
Home to more than 35,000 animals, Chester Zoo closed its gates to the public in March and has now been told by the Government it will have to stay closed indefinitely – potentially leaving it with a crippling £24m shortfall.
Just to keep its animals fed and cared for, and pay its staff, the zoo needs to raise £1.6m every month. The longer it remains closed to the public the more precarious its position becomes. In response it has launched a ‘Save Our Zoo’ fundraising campaign.
Jamie Christon, the 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.
“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 of the future survival of this much-loved charity zoo. We’re heading towards debt in excess of £24m by the end of 2020 – this will financially cripple us.”
In 2019, Chester Zoo smashed through the 2m annual visitors barrier for the first time since it first opened its gates in 1931. It is estimated the zoo generates more than £80m for the regional economy every year and, during the normal summer peak period, employs up to 1,000 people.
It also runs 80 projects around the world, fighting to prevent the extinction of threatened species. Mr Christon added: “We are not prepared to give up this fight and are continually lobbying Government across all relevant departments, at all levels.
“We know we can provide a well-managed, safe environment for our visitors, staff and animals and have invested in all of the required safety features set out by the government, and more. Visitors carefully returning to the zoo is our lifeline.