Cheshire politicians are urging Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith to allow Chester Zoo to reopen as a fundraising effort to keep it afloat raises more than £1m. Tony McDonough reports
Pressure is growing on the Government to allow Chester Zoo to reopen as donations towards its fight for survival exceed £1m.
On Wednesday Chester Zoo, which normally welcomes more than 2m visitors a year, said its future was threatened by a Government decision that it must stay closed indefinitely amid the coronavirus epidemic.
Jamie Christon, the zoo’s chief operating officer, says zoos weekly running costs are £1.6m a month and, with now income coming in, it was facing a bleak outlook. He added: “If this goes on through the summer and gets to autumn and we’re still closed then I’m afraid I can see us at the point of no return.”
The zoo has started a Save Our Zoo public appeal for donations which, at the time of writing, had already exceeded £1m. Mr Christon claims the zoo could operate safely and keep the risk of virus transmission to a minimum.
Now Cheshire politicians have joined the push to persuade the Government to change its mind and allow the zoo to reopen in the coming weeks with string social distancing measures in place.
A number of Cheshire MPs, including Edward Timpson and Andy Carter are backing the campaign. Simon Eardley, Conservative councillor for the Saughall and Mollington ward, which covers the zoo, has written to Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith, asking him to reconsider.
Cllr Eardley said: “Chester Zoo is world-renowned for its work to conserve and save animals in danger of extinction. It would be a travesty if it was not thrown a lifeline to see it through the pandemic. We know the zoo is loved by many, many people far beyond Chester and its work has a global impact.
“Zac Goldsmith is a minister who is widely respected for his support for conservation and animal welfare. I am urging him to urgently intervene to provide the lifeline it needs to survive.”
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 by the end of the year.
In 2019, 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 just desperately need the Government to see sense.”