Zoos reopening: What will change for visitors?

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Marwell ZooImage source, Marwell Zoo
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Marwell Zoo in Hampshire said its indoor animals areas will not re-open

With the Prime Minister expected to give outdoor attractions the go-ahead to welcome visitors once more, it could soon be open season for England's zoos and safari parks.

Boris Johnson is due to announce an easing of restrictions for outdoor venues if they follow social distancing rules.

But what will a visit to the zoo look like, post-lockdown? And will animal attractions be able to cope after losing out on three months of ticket sales?

Keep your distance, stay outside

Image source, ZSL
Image caption,
Social distancing paw prints are in place at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire

At larger zoos, social distancing is not expected to cause too many problems.

Owen Craft, Whipsnade Zoo's chief operating officer, said there was plenty of space at its 600-acre site in Bedfordshire.

"We have 2m (6ft 6in) social distancing paw prints placed out for queuing and additional signing to remind people of the rules," he said.

"There will also be additional hand sanitising stations and increased cleaning regimes."

But visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite animals might be disappointed, as indoor facilities will be forced to remain closed.

A spokeswoman for Marwell Zoo in Hampshire said there would be "no animal talks, touch tables, train services or public animal feeds".

Cafes and restaurants are expected to operate as take-away only.

Claudia Roberts, commercial managing director of the Zoological Society of East Anglia, which runs Africa Alive in Suffolk and Banham Zoo in Norfolk, said it was making many changes.

"It will be a cashless system, it will be online timed entrance slots, different entry and exit points," she said.

"We've got one-way systems, no indoor eating anywhere so we've had to put up some extra facilities and outdoor hatches, exiting through our retail premises, only a certain number of families at a time.

"There are about 150 things on the list and it's a long one because we are doing everything we can to get everyone back because we miss everyone, but also to make sure it's safe."

The impact of lockdown

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The UK's big zoos said they were at risk of closure due to the lockdown

Lockdown measures led to many animal attractions closing for the longest period in their history, covering the lucrative Easter break and two bank holidays.

Several launched campaigns - either to raise cash or to press the government to offer more help with their financial struggles during what would have been a busy time.

Chief executive of Bristol Zoological Society Justin Morris said: "We are still in a very difficult position financially and we are not on safe ground yet.

"We are very much hoping that people will continue showing us the fantastic support we have received over the past few months."

Mr Craft, from Whipsnade Zoo, said: "It's been a very difficult time for us.

"Reopening will help but it's not an instant fix. We still need more support."

Will the zoos survive?

Media caption,

Chester Zoo showed off its animals with a virtual tour on Facebook

Earlier this week Chester Zoo - which has been closed since 21 March - said its future was "on a knife edge", despite a government pledge to provide financial support.

Chief operating officer Jamie Christon said: "We are already £5m down so far this year and even when we open on Monday we will be opening on controlled capacity of around 3,000 people a day - a fifth of our normal capacity.

"It's going to take us a long, long, time to recover."

Colchester Zoo curator Sarah Forsyth said she felt "a bit apprehensive as we need more staff back, our costs are going to go up and our income won't be as high because of the limitations on visitor numbers".

What happens next?

Image caption,
Michaela Doherty from Jimmy's Farm in Suffolk said the lockdown had represented its "rock bottom in 18 years of trading"

It is expected zoos and wildlife parks will be given the green light to open from 15 June, but some attractions are warning people to not visit unless they have pre-booked.

Michaela Doherty, managing director of Jimmy's Farm in Wherstead, Suffolk, said visitors would now have to buy tickets in advance, with the numbers limited each day.

Whipsnade Zoo will also only allow visitors who have pre-booked through its website.

While sites across England will be finalising plans to reopen in the coming days, many zoos said they had been ready and waiting for the announcement.

Edward Perry, managing director of Knowsley Safari, near Liverpool, said: "We have been ready for the past week to safely open to the public and we still can't understand why it's been ok for people to jump in their cars to go and get Big Macs, but not to come and see our big cats."

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