Tears and cheers as London Zoo reopens

PUBLISHED: 18:57 15 June 2020 | UPDATED: 18:57 15 June 2020

ZSL London Zoo, Camden UK. ZSL London Zoo reopens to the public with a one-way system and social distance measures in place.

ZSL London Zoo, Camden UK. ZSL London Zoo reopens to the public with a one-way system and social distance measures in place.

Dave Stevenson

Website crashes and the first lucky visitors are delighted as tickets went on sale for the Regent’s Park attraction

ZSL London Zoo, Camden UK. ZSL London Zoo reopens to the public with a one-way system and social distance measures in place.ZSL London Zoo, Camden UK. ZSL London Zoo reopens to the public with a one-way system and social distance measures in place.

There were cheers - and a few tears - in the socially distanced queue as the shutters went back up at London Zoo today. (Mon)

The Regent’s Park attraction closed in March for the first time since WW2, but was given the green light by Boris Johnson to reopen last week.

As the first few thousand tickets were released last Thursday lunchtime, the Zoo’s website briefly crashed.

“It was our Glastonbury moment,” said a delighted Chief Operating Officer Kathryn England as she looked around at happy, relaxed families enjoying the zoo in the summer sunshine.

ZSL London Zoo, Camden UK. ZSL London Zoo reopens to the public with a one-way system and social distance measures in place.ZSL London Zoo, Camden UK. ZSL London Zoo reopens to the public with a one-way system and social distance measures in place.

As soon as the announcment was made, the Zoo unfurloughed staff and mapped out three one-way routes to allow comfortable socially-distanced visits to the 36-acre site.

“There was a round of applause when we opened, which shows how happy people were,” says Ms England, who praised the Zoo’s dedicated staff for sleeping on site during the 86-day lockdown to take care of the animals.

“It felt really magical, as if life was returning to the site. There’s a sense of pride that we could share it once again and repay all those loyal people who had supported us through the last few weeks.

“All our staff feel passionately about the Zoo but also about sharing it. Seeing smiles everywhere, people feeling totally safe and having a great day out, has been quite emotional.”

London Zoo reopens Gorilla KingdomLondon Zoo reopens Gorilla Kingdom

When first garden centres, then parks and gardens were allowed to open post lockdown, Zoo managers hoped that they would be next.

But when shops were set to reopen today with no announcement on zoos, ZSL’s loyal fans took to social media and wrote to their MPs to lobby them.

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“In their words it was illogical that you could buy Nike trainers but not come to a large open air attraction like the zoo. It seemed to have the desired effect and the Government had a change of heart.”

Zookeeper Daniel Simmonds said: “It’s been a really surreal, and quite anxious, time without visitors on site, but we are so excited that our efforts have paid off and we can finally welcome them back.”

As for the Zoo’s inhabitants, Ms England said the primates and the penguins in particular were delighted to see visitors return.

“You can see how much the penguins are enjoying swimming around at this end,” she pointed to the perspex viewing gallery.

“I was the first person in the zoo without a green keeper’s uniform and they noticed me straight away. The Gorillas have mastered the furlough pose of lying on their back chillling out and watching the visitors, and Jimmy the gibbon has really missed all the attention.”

But the new 2,000 capacity - with indoor attractions such as the reptile and butterfly house, Bugs exhibition and Rainforest Life closed - falls far short of the 8,000 the charity would usually expect on a summer’s day.

“The last three months have hurt us quite significantly financially, with no income and most of our costs unchanged,” admitted Ms England.

“It meant using our reserves, because we won’t ever compromise on animal welfare.

“We were getting to the point where our savings were used up. Opening the gates is the start of a recovery journey, but it’s not a magic wand. There’s a long way to go. It’s reassuring for us that we can start helping ourselves, but we will need ongoing support from Government, members and supporters to be able to thrive while balancing the safety of the visitors and staff with the need to get as much income as possible.

“We feel we have struck that balance today, but with limited capacity it is not going to get us out of the woods.”

That said she added: “We have been around for nearly 200 years and we want to be around for another 200.”

ZSL will release batches of pre-booked tickets in two week tranches with staggered opening times. Catering outlets are takeaway only, payments are contactless but they hope to reopen indoor attractions and keeper talks as the lockdown eases.

Book tickets online at www.zsl.org.


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