Colchester Zoo's fight for survival as Covid causes £4m loss in turnover

Colchester Zoo director Dr Dominique Tropeano Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Colchester Zoo director Dr Dominique Tropeano said the zoo is facing a very difficult few months. - Credit: Archant

The director of Colchester Zoo has asked people to "be kind" and support the attraction after issuing a stark warning about its future - following nearly a £4million loss in turnover.

The site in Maldon Road was forced to close its doors to visitors for a third of 2020. It is expected the zoo will be closed for at least 46 days at the start of 2021. 

Dr Dominique Tropeano, who became director of the zoo in 1983, has transformed the tourist attraction with the help of his team into one of the best zoos in the country - winning a number of awards in recent years for being classed as the ‘best day out’.

Despite this, Dr Tropeano said the business is coping with "extreme difficulties" due to Covid-19, as the country experiences its third national lockdown. 

One of zookeepers counting the lemurs at Colchester Zoo, for its annual 'big count'.

One of zookeepers counting the lemurs at Colchester Zoo, for its annual 'big count'. - Credit: Colchester Zoo

He explained that the zoo's running costs are much higher in the winter, with food costs increasing and the heating and electricity bills also much greater. 

He fears the zoo will not be able to survive much longer on the lower visitor rates which they experienced throughout last year, adding that their finances are "very stretched" following the limited summer trade and a drop in donations. 

The zoo, which relies heavily on income generated by its thousands of visitors, saw its attendance drop by 40% last year compared to 2019, welcoming just 600,000 visitors to the enclosure.

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Most of these were passholders, which meant the zoo's paying visitor income was highly reduced. 

"It is an extremely worrying picture for us here at Colchester Zoo - one of survival if we can," said Dr Tropeano.

"We feel that this is a similar picture for a lot of zoos, which is extremely worrying for conservation overall."

Cheetah cubs, Nova, Hope, Star & Colonel Tom from Colchester Zoo Picture: COLCHESTER ZOO

Cheetah cubs, Nova, Hope, Star & Colonel Tom from Colchester Zoo. - Credit: COLCHESTER ZOO

Dr Tropeano said the zoo has had no choice but to stop all of its development projects and the support it usually offers to conservation projects, to ensure it can retain all its resources to help work towards its "possible future". 

The zoo's annual turnover is down by just short of a "devastating" £4million from 2019 to 2020, and a number of redundancies have been made within the commercial and development departments. 

Dr Tropeano said these cuts give the zoo "more of a chance of survival", but reassured guests that the animals continue to be cared for by his Animal Care Team - with more than 70 employees working on site to look after them.

He said even when the zoo is allowed to reopen they will continue to struggle as running costs will still be high and social distancing is likely to remain in place, therefore continuing the reduced capacity and income they experienced in 2020.   

"Having to cap our visitors for safety measures and requiring visitors to book time slots in advance really affected our attendance," he explained. 

Families can visit all the indoor animal enclosures from July 4 Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Families were able to visit all the indoor animal enclosures at Colchester Zoo from July - but this was quickly stopped when the cases of Covid-19 started rising again. - Credit: Archant

Dr Tropeano said visitors do not need to worry about the animals, despite the situation the zoo faces, as they are making sure they have everything they need. 

He said: "We would just politely ask, please be kind and help us through this difficult period, we need money to be able to pay for the care we provide our animals."

You can support Colchester Zoo through these difficult times by donating, becoming a passholder, adopting an animal or visiting their online shop. Find out how you can support them here.