Zoos and safari parks are getting ready to welcome visitors, after they were given the green light to open their doors from June 15 in the latest lockdown easing.
Leading zoos including London, Chester and Whipsnade, as well as smaller attractions, had warned the Government they faced permanent closure if they were not allowed to reopen soon to visitors who provide their income.
It would not just affect the zoos themselves, but the conservation work they do around the world, the attractions said.
Zoo bosses had criticised moves to allow car showrooms, furniture stores and National Trust gardens to reopen with social distancing measures, while keeping zoos and safari parks, which are largely outdoor attractions, closed.
Now the Prime Minister is announcing they can open again from next week, but it will not be the same experience for visitors as before lockdown for some time.
Indoor exhibitions, such as reptile houses, will still be closed, cafes will be takeaway only, and social distancing and hygiene measures will greet the reduced number of visitors allowed.
At ZSL London Zoo, preparations ahead of its expected reopening next week include extra hand-sanitiser stations and coloured paw prints painted on to the ground to mark one-way trails for visitors.
Kathryn England, chief operating officer of the zoo in Regent’s Park, said that the team was “ready to go and really looking forward to welcoming people
“Staff and keepers are all really excited. We’re here to share the wonderful wildlife with people… they can’t wait to see people and see the joy,” she
Ms England added that the zoo had been “breathing a sigh of relief” at the Government announcement that it could reopen.
“It’s been tough, it’s been really tough through a financial lens,” she said. “We’ve really drained down our savings.”
Jamie Christon, chief operating officer at Chester Zoo, said: “A week ago we were in despair, not knowing when we would reopen, or if we could even survive if our gates had to remain closed for much longer.”
He thanked the public and MPs for their support and the Government for allowing them to reopen.
“This isn’t over just yet though. There’s no denying that the zoo has suffered severe financial damage over the past three months and the road to recovery will be long and uncertain.
“However, we now start the process of rebuilding this great charity zoo, as we prepare to safely welcome back visitors through our gates, albeit in much, much fewer numbers, from Monday June 15.”
Marwell Zoo chief executive James Cretney said the Hampshire attraction had been working to the Government’s indicated reopening date of early July, and had yet to confirm when it will open.
“We are now busy making the necessary changes including bringing back and safety training our furloughed staff and installing all the physical measures to ensure guests can safely enjoy our 140-acre zoo.
“As soon as the preparations are complete, we will reopen.”
Measures will include limited pre-booked visitors, card payments, two-metre floor markings at enclosures and in queues, new one-way routes on narrow paths, multiple hand-sanitisation points and stringent cleaning.
Dr Christoph Schwitzer, chairman of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Biaza), said the organisation was “not under any illusions of the challenges we still face”.
“Many of our members, including aquariums and tropical houses, are not able to open and members in other nations remain under lockdown.
“We will continue to make our case across the nations as well as pushing for urgent financial aid to be made available from governments. We are not out of the woods yet.”
The National Marine Aquarium has called for the Government to let aquariums know when they can reopen and warned they need support in the absence of visitor income.
The Plymouth attraction said it had implemented measures so visitors could return safely, including reduced tickets and hourly time slots, more washing and hand sanitiser stations, increased cleaning and a one-way route.