Zoos were closed to the public as soon as the UK went into lockdown on March 23, to try and reduce the outbreak of Covid-19.
But now as the lockdown is gradually being lifted, one of the places to open up this month has been zoos and other outdoor spaces that allow for social distancing.
This has come as a relief to many families looking for a day out and animal-lovers, because we can all admit that virtual tours of zoos – where you can see the animals at any time of the day and take part in keeper feeding times -are great fun but they don’t quite match up to the full experience. As any child (big or small) will tell you, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing a real life tiger up close and personal.
At the beginning of June, we heard a lot about which “non-essential” services – like shops – would be open again and more about the new lockdown rules. Within one of these briefings, Boris Johnson also made an announcement that zoos would be able to reopen to the public and soon after that, the major zoos across the UK announced that they were open for business once again.
Which zoos are open?
While the announcement that zoos were able to reopen again was met with celebration by many organisations who were struggling during lockdown, it’s unfortunately not all zoos across the UK that are able to open again.
As with all other lockdown restrictions, those announced by Boris Johnson apply primarily to England. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, and the other ministers of Northern Ireland and Wales have different reopening dates for zoos – which range from now to late June and into July.
It is also down to the discretion of the zoos as to when they can reopen, as many animal exhibits that take place inside are unavailable for the foreseeable future as they don’t allow for social distancing. Zoos have also been quick to put into place measures to make sure that social distancing can take place, such as pre-booked tickets only, markers for 2 metre distancing, one-way routes around the site and some zoos are even enforcing non-contact temperature checks.
So which zoos are open in the UK?
- ZSL London Zoo
- ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
- Chester Zoo
- Dublin Zoo
- Colchester Zoo
- Dudley Zoo and Castle
- Howletts Wildlife Park
- Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire
- Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire
- Port Lympne Reserve in Kent
- Cotswold Wildlife Park
- West Midland Safari Park
- Knowsley Safari
- Chessington World of Adventures Zoo
- Longleat Safari and Adventure Park in Wiltshire
- South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria
- New Forest Wildlife Park
- Isle of Wight Zoo
Which zoos will be open soon?
- Drusillas Park in East Sussex is open from June 26
- Edinburgh Zoo opens on June 29
- Newquay Zoo in Cornwall is opening from June 29
- Marwell Zoo in Hampshire opens on June 29
- Blackpool Zoo is open from June 29
- Exmoor Zoo is open from July 5
- Bristol Zoo gardens is opening at an unconfirmed later date
- Paignton Zoo in Devon aims to open from early July
- Banham Zoo in Norfolk opens from July 1 for annual pass holders and July 4 for public
- The Welsh Mountain Zoo in North Wales is closed until further notice
- Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire is open June 22 – 26 for members only
- Belfast Zoo is closed to the public until further notice
Where can I pre-book tickets for the zoo?
Most zoos across the UK are implementing strict policies to ensure that they don’t have too many people in the zoo at one time. This means selling limited numbers of tickets every day and not accepting ticket sales on the door. So where can you pre-book tickets for the zoo?
The best place to pre-book tickets for the zoo is on their website. For example, click here to buy tickets for London Zoo for 10 per cent off and click here to buy tickets for Whipsnade Zoo.
For other places where a zoo is incorporated onto the site, like Chessington World of Adventures, you can pre-buy tickets through another booking site and often receive good family discounts. Alternatively, head over to Kids Pass where you can find deals on family day outs – everything from safari parks to the cinema.
When were zoos able to reopen again?
On 10th June, Boris Johnson outlined the next stage of lifting the lockdown. He explained that outdoor attractions will be able to open, so long as they follow social distancing rules, from Monday June 15.
This came after a number of PMs and the Prime Minister’s own father calling for action to be taken so that zoos can reopen, as many have been hit with their own financial crisis since the lockdown started.
The lockdown was naturally going to be a real problem for many zoos, as they often rely on visitor fees to keep their sites open. A spokesperson for Colchester Zoo told the Daily Mirror, “We think that being able to re-open in July would be wonderful but this could go on until September or October, we could not last until then, so to survive we will need to approach banks to help us out.”
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Similarly, London Zoo is reportedly facing its worst ever financial crisis after closing for the first time since World War Two. According to MailOnline, it costs £2.3million per month to feed and look after all the animals.
Chester Zoo reported similar hardships because of the virus, resulting in debts of £2.4 million. Although Iceland – the supermarket high-street chain – have stepped in to help them out by adopting the zoo’s entire hoard of Humboldt penguins.
With some zoos struggling to get financial support from the banks as they’ve never borrowed before, many are unsure when they will reopen again – or if they ever will.
What’s been happening to the zoo animals in lockdown?
As you can see if you tune into one of the zoos’ live streams, the animals seem to coping well in lockdown. Keepers at London Zoo, for example, are staying in lodges on site to make sure that they can care for the animals and offer them human interaction.
At Dublin Zoo the animals are apparently wondering, “what’s happened to everyone”. Director Leo Oosterweghel told the Irish Times that the animals are now surprised to see him, saying, “They come up and have a good look. They are used to visitors”. While at Phoenix Zoo in America, the keepers have noticed a real change in behaviour from the animals. The zoo’s communications director Linda Hardwick told the BBC, “We have noticed that some of our more ‘social’ animals are not a fan of the stay at home and social distancing orders. Primates especially have noticed our guests are gone and go looking for them.”
However, there has also been suggestions by animal rights group Freedom For Animals that if zoos did not survive the lockdown then the animals could be killed – as has already been threatened by one zoo in Somerset.
When did zoos reopen in other countries?
Some countries such as Belgium, Austria, France, Germany, Denmark, Italy and a few areas of Spain are already welcoming back visitors into their zoos with social distancing measures in place.
In Belgium, visitors must follow a one-way system and have time-slotted visits with online tickets. It’s likely that other countries in Europe, including the UK, would follow suit with this as they have laid out similar plans for reopening other non-essential services.
Many of the zoos were allowed to reopen for one specific reason though. Since they’re outside establishments, scientists are more confident about people upholding the social distancing regulations and the virus not spreading so quickly.
So, thankfully we’ve got our reopening in the UK! These animals sounded like they needed to see some more familiar faces.