Projects under threat as Chester Zoo losses hit £10m

With the UK now in its third COVID-19 lockdown losses at Chester Zoo are close to £10m and long-term expansion projects will now have to be put on hold. Tony McDonough reports

Endangered Asian elephants are among the 30,000-plus residents of Chester Zoo


Chester Zoo will have to shelve long-term projects with its losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic now approaching £10m.

As one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions, the zoo, which is a registered charity usually welcomes more than 2m visitors a year but, since the first lockdown was imposed last March, it has seen its main source of income dry up for long periods.

In June 2020 he zoo launched an urgent Save Our Zoo public appeal for donations saying the crisis posed a threat to its existence. With more than 30,000 animals and hundreds of staff, Chester Zoo’s monthly running costs are £1.6m.

When the initial lockdown was lifted the zoo was restricting numbers to under 5,000 a day through the summer – well down on the usual 10,000 for the period – as it looked to minimise the risk to visitors by implementing strict social distancing guidelines.

However, since since it has been forced to close again with two subsequent national lockdowns and its financial position become more perilous with each day it has to stay closed. And in a further blow, the zoo has been unable to Government’s £100m Zoo Animals Fund due to its strict criteria.

Jamie Christon, the zoo’s chief operating officer, told Cheshire Live that the zoo was having to take out loans, meaning future expansion plans would have to be put on hold. Projects postponed include the Grasslands project which was due to open in 2022.

“Extended periods of time with no visitor income is a big worry for the zoo, as ticket sales are what we mostly rely on to keep our charity zoo going,” said Mr Christon. “We’re now one month into the lockdown and, with no indication as to when it might end.

“It’s still costing us £1.6m per month to care for the animals and we simply refuse to cut corners on their welfare. January and February are traditionally our quietest months but still we estimate the current lockdown has cost us another £750,000 – £1m in additional losses so far.

“This will unfortunately impact our long-long-term plans. The road ahead remains an uncertain one for us, but we will absolutely bounce back from this and continue to prevent extinction, which is what we do best.”

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