COLCHESTER Zoo's boss has spoken out on the difficulties the attraction has faced over the past 12 months as it prepares to reopen again after lockdown.

Under the Government's roadmap out of lockdown zoos across the country can reopen from Monday.

It has faced months of enforced closures since March with its savings are being eaten away by the day-to-day running costs, with the majority of the zoo’s overseas conservation support suspended.

As a result, the zoo launched an emergency operating fund following the first coronavirus lockdown in March and has been helped by kind-hearted residents donating.

But the Covid pandemic has been extremely testing for the facility.

In advance of reopening, Colchester Zoo's managing director, Dr Dominque Tropeano OBE, has written to supporters about the past 12 months.

Colchester Zoo

Picture: Tom Smith

He said: "In the last twelve months we have experienced intensive drama suitable to be made into a book or even as a TV documentary, it has been so dramatic.

"Not many people, outside of our close environment, have been able to experience the emotions we have gone through over this challenging period, not just us here at Colchester, but in many locations.

"The joy of normality in our zoo life was shattered and replaced by shock and concern when we were told to close the zoo down. "

Dr Tropeano says the first step was to assess its assets, after which difficult decisions had to be made.

"The first cuts implemented was to all our support, financial and technical, in the many conservation projects we help to run throughout the world," he said.

"We had to carry on to support our Umphafa NatureReserve in South Africa with the assistance of our charity organisation, Action for the Wild, which is of course funded by the zoo.

"The next cuts came with our capital projects like the new education centre, costing well over £1.5 million which was cancelled.

"Many other planned improvements we had projected were also stopped such as new toilet facilities.

"Unfortunately, these cuts also meant we had to sadly let go some of our staff, particularly within the maintenance department.

"This was not an easy decision and the whole process was very emotional.

"We remained responsible for the welfare of all our animal collection consisting of cleaning, feeding, heating and veterinary services. A huge cost under normal circumstances let alone through this time with no income in sight."

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The zoo has been able to take advantage of the furlough scheme but Dr Tropeano said Government support had been hard to come by.

Colchester Zoo


He said: "We could not see the Government coming to our rescue, and whilst some funding became available, we would not qualify.

"We were grateful for the furlough scheme, business rates suspension and later the VAT reduction which have been extremely helpful.

"However, our concern became pain, desperation and much later questioning where and how the future would lie for Colchester Zoo.

"I found myself praying to the Gods without realising, praying we would have a chance to survive and as a human being, make a more of a valid contribution in the future. These were dark days.

"Out of this came help from many, all unexpected, from money raised doing extraordinary things to providing food for the animals, receiving messages of affection and to stay strong.

"All of which gave us strength, hope and energy to look towards the future with the knowledge that what we do is good and appreciated.

"Without this outside help I think we may have caved into a state of desperation. Now we look forward."

Snowing - one of the zoos zebras out in the snow. Picture: Colchester Zoo

Snowing - one of the zoo's zebras out in the snow. Picture: Colchester Zoo

The zoo will reopen its doors on April 12, with a booking system once again in place for visitors and a cap on the numbers which can attend.

Dr Tropeano said: "We have done the very best we could afford with our limited team and resources available to give you something new when we re-open with minor changes but we will continue firstly with small projects as it will be a while before we can afford big changes, but the good days will return and we will be back again.

"Re-opening will bring some issues, our daily number of visitors will be limited to comply with current restrictions, therefore you may be disappointed as we appreciate it will be difficult to get a ticket.

"We still need income from visitors so will share our daily attendance between paying visitors and Gold Passholders but we hope by May restrictions will be less severe so not long before normality will return and we will be able to again smile because we are doing a good job and delivering an excellent experience.

"I hope you will see and agree we are doing our best for everyone but at the same time we need to stay alive and positive building up some cash reserve just in case there is another twist around the corner.

"From me, my family, my colleagues who makes Colchester Zoo what it is, thank you for your past support, thank you for your support now and support in the future.

"We are very dedicated to our mission to all our animals and to you our audience. It is time to stand with pride looking towards the future with hope, kindness and the knowledge that we can all do our share to ensure Covid belongs to the past."

To find out more about the zoo's reopening plans, visit