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The Impact of Lockdown on Our Zoos

The full extent of these lockdowns will probably not be known for many months, or even years, to come.  With that said, at the time of writing, we are in our third national lockdown and we’re going to look at the impact that the lockdowns have had on our zoos so far.

Paignton Zoo and Newquay Zoo, both owned by Wild Planet Trust, closed their doors in 2020 for the first national lockdown on Monday 23rd March. While the zoos were closed we had no income, apart from funds kindly raised by our supporters through fundraising campaigns. Unfortunately, the result of the first national lockdown meant the zoos were £3 million down on their expected financial position for that time of the year, having missed the increased footfall over the Easter holidays from guests and regulars. Paignton Zoo and Newquay Zoo cost an estimated £20,000 and £5,000 per day to run respectively so to keeps costs to a minimum during this time, difficult decisions were made to furlough non-essential staff and to make redundancies.

Following the first lockdown we had to restrict the numbers of guests coming into our zoos, in line with government guidelines, to keep both staff and visitors safe. Added to this, both Paignton and Newquay Zoo created  new Covid safety signage and floor markers for social distancing; this, of course, came at an extra cost at an already very tight time financially, but this was a necessity for reopening and welcoming guests back into our zoos.

From a living collection standpoint, the successive lockdowns have been both a blessing and a curse. Animal moves are an important part of zoos operating smoothly and the restrictions in place have meant that our planned animal moves have been disrupted, especially international ones. Some of our animals have also noticed the quieter days – parrots in particular, as they typically gain a lot of stimulation from watching the steady stream of guests. Operational changes have also had an impact on our animals, including the safety measures put in place for our keepers to keep themselves and our animals safe, for example:

  • All staff are keeping their distance, hand washing and wearing masks when in close proximity – if needed for animal welfare matters
  • The keeper teams are working in ‘bubbles’
  • Keepers are taking it in turns to have breaks to avoid contact between bubbles
  • Staff are not sharing vehicles or tools and are disinfecting them between use
  • Extra care is taken to wear masks when working with our orangs and gorillas

Whilst the lockdowns have caused disruption and have added steps to our keeper’s regular schedules, there are some benefits to our zoos being closed (in the short term). Having a quiet zoo means that gardens and seasonal maintenance work, such as cutting back borders and mulching, which involves a lot of vehicle movements around site, can go ahead throughout the day. During opening times we try to minimise such work for safety and guests experience reasons. Not having visitors means that the gardens and maintenance teams can move bulky materials around the zoos more freely and leave those materials on site where it is required. The gardens team have also taken the closures as an opportunity to carry out some important safety tree works which would be very disruptive to the guest experience were it to be carried out when the zoo is open.

It is needless to say that during these lockdowns and the wider unprecedented times in which we are living it is important to focus on the positives where possible. Whilst the zoos are closed, we continue to work behind the scenes to care for our animals and improve the zoos for when we can welcome visitors back.

Since the first national lockdown and over the past 10 months we have been overwhelmed with the support we have received. Our Virgin Money Giving campaigns have reached an amazing £142,840.42 for Paignton Zoo and £54,723.26 for Newquay Zoo at the time of writing. So we would like to say a massive thank you for all your donations, kind words and gestures at this time and we look forward to welcoming you back as soon as it is possible.

If you would like to help raise funds or donate you can find out more here:

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