Behind the scenes of London Zoo in lockdown as it struggles to survive

Usually the half-term holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for London Zoo.

But for 2021, the third national lockdown due to coronavirus has left the central London zoo’s doors closed and empty of visitors.

And the animals still need the same attention and care from zookeepers as before the pandemic – but now the Regent’s Park menagerie is seeing a multi-million-pound hole in its budget.

‘Lockdown here has been really surreal – like with no visitors here, it’s been a really sad time for the zoo,’ said Kate Sanders, who is the zoo’s big cats team leader.

‘We are losing so much money I’m concerned the zoo might not survive.’

Although the jobs of zookeepers have changed little through the pandemic – except of course, the introduction of Covid-safe measures – they are sad and anxious about the future of the popular attraction.

Feeding the animals costs around £1 million a month, and the latest lockdown will cost the zoo another £1.8 million blow – on top of the £15 million pound loss last year.

‘It just remains so sad that we are closed,’ said the zoo’s chief operating officer, Kathryn England.

‘We can’t furlough animals and you can’t furlough all of the staff who look after the animals.’

Lockdowns meant the zoo was closed for 18 weeks in 2020, which wiped out ticket sales. Adult tickets, including a voluntary contribution, at peak times cost £35 and tickets for children cost £22.75.

She added: ‘More importantly, we are here to inspire people about wildlife and as long as we are closed, we have to find very ingenious ways of doing that.

‘But nothing really beats having people in the zoo and having a great day out. It’s hard – it’s really hard.’

A number of aquariums, safari parks and zoos last week called for urgent support from the Government to stop them from permanently closing.

Reports from previous lockdowns also suggested some of the animals were ‘lonely’ as a result of the lack of visitors.

London Zoo was opened in 1828 by the Zoological Society of London, and it was visited by Charles Darwin while he was writing his ‘Origin of Species’. The zoo’s patron is Queen Elizabeth II.

Alongside Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, which is also owned by the zoological society, it has 22,949 animals.

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