‘Hardest times ahead’: Job losses inevitable as Colchester Zoo reopens
PUBLISHED: 05:31 18 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:50 18 June 2020
The director of Colchester Zoo says redundancies will be “inevitable” and the survival of the attraction hinges on the next few months.
After closing in March, days before the nationwide lockdown was imposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Colchester Zoo has made repeated public calls for government support and public donations to help it cover its running costs, which add up to more than £25,000 a day.
Dr Dominique Tropeano, who has overseen the attraction since 1983 and turned it into one of the best zoos in the country, said the next few months were crucial to see the zoo through to Easter 2021 and that “the hardest times are yet to come”.
Speaking ahead of its official reopening today (Thursday June 18), a one-way walking system, hand sanitising stations and social distancing measures have all been rolled out.
Pass holders and donors were invited for a free sneak-peek at the zoo’s new look.
Dr Tropeano said: “We had some people who donated £5, we have had some people who donated £1,000. To me, they are all the same.
“If you ask both of those people they gave what they could afford and that all matters to us.
“Other gave us food and vegetables. We were completely amazed to see just how people felt about Colchester Zoo.
“Our MP Priti Patel wrote to us to say how many people were urging her to save the zoo. So this day was for them.”
The reopening was a huge effort, as staff had just days to prepare after zoos were among the businesses given the green light to open to customers again.
“We are disappointed though because we are not sure why some of the buildings have to remain closed,” said Dr Tropeano.
“When I got to my supermarket there is very good signage outside but then inside it is a free-for-all, but we have had to keep the sea lion, orangutan, giraffe and elephant buildings closed.”
“We are open, and from Thursday we will take money, but I believe the hardest times have yet to come,” Dr Tropeano added.
“We would expect up to 6,000 visitors a day in August – unless the two-metre distance is reduced to one metre we can only have up to 2,000. That will maybe pay our wages and expenses.”
Dr Tropeano praised some of the government’s decisions, with business rate relief and the furlough scheme helping the zoo stay afloat, but said he was also asking for VAT relief to support the zoo in the short-term.
“About 77% of our staff were furloughed at some point,” he said.
“There’s some staff that work park-time or summers, but we have staff that have worked here 20 years.
“I think there will be casualties, redundancies will be inevitable. A letter has been sent to staff. There will be no major projects but there will be a review of improvements.
“At the end of the day, we have survived the last three months. But where we will be in January, February or March? It is an aim and it will be an achievement survive by Easter.”
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