Colchester Zoo’s honest reflection after fighting to survive lockdowns

The director of Colchester Zoo has reflected on the past 12 months after almost a full year of coronavirus restrictions in the UK.

Colchester Zoo have already had to shut their doors three times within the past 12 months due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

The zoo first closed to the public in March 2020 and were unable to allow customers back to the park in Colchester, Essex until June.

When the second lockdown was announced in November, the zoo closed again.

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Just weeks after reopening, the zoo was then shut for a third time when Colchester was placed into Tier 4 – just days before England placed back into lockdown.

Now, Dr DA Tropeano OBE has written an honest reflection about the past year and the struggles the pandemic created for the popular Essex attraction.

He said: “It is the period when well over 100,000 people suffered beyond belief and died in this country alone due to this dreadful virus.

“It is the period when we really took note, understood and cherished the task of the NHS, rather than take it for granted.

“The NHS is not a machine, it is made of people who have made great sacrifices, some losing their life trying to save others.

“It is hoped that from now on, never again will the NHS running cost be a political matter.

“It is the period when families, the young and the old, had to be separated and sometimes sadly lost.

“It is the period when the high street was empty, shops of all sizes closed and changed certainly for the foreseeable future if not forever.

“It is the period when thousands of people lost their jobs and were left faced with an uncomfortable, uncertain future.

“It is the period when schools had to be closed leaving children’s future hanging in the balance.

“It is the period when starving children came into the political agenda because of cost-cutting.

“It is the period when people clapped to express their respect and gratefulness to the many acts of heroism by the many who were described as The Front-Line Workers.

“It is the period when, during the loss and the pain, we saw so much kindness and generosity.

“It is the period when we began to discover and perhaps understand better how much mental illness affected so many.”

Tropeano described the destruction that coronavirus has brought to many lives and society as a whole.

He added that Colchester Zoo has not only suffered financially here in Essex, but their conservation site in South Africa, the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve, has also been affected.

This includes animals being hunted and killed.

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Dr Tropeano continued: “From the Zoo’s point of view we have struggled, we have had to beg, and the generosity of people came to our rescue so we have survived. We have learnt a great deal but also lost a great deal too.

“The reports we receive from the wild is that without the help of the wide zoo community animals have suffered and paid a heavy price.

“The UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve, our flagship conservation project in South Africa, has experienced an increase in animal poaching.

“People within the local community lost their jobs, Furlough there is not what we have here, so children are starving. There is no money in the pocket so one of the ways to put food on the table is to turn to poaching.

“We have had to increase our security operations for the safety of our animals which is a huge task given the size of UmPhafa.

“Even without any income or Furlough, all our reserve staff have had their pay so they can survive during these harsh times and able to feed their family.”

Thankfully, Colchester Zoo has managed to survive until now.

Dr Tropeano said that the generosity of other people had played a key part in their ‘survival’.

“Our income is at present rock bottom, but running a zoo, even closed, still costs thousands of pounds every day, for the animals care and comfort,” he continued.

“Thankfully we had always been very careful with our spending and whilst most of our cash reserve has now disappeared, we have, up until now, been able to survive helped by many financial donations and other acts of kindness.

“So, when we think of this period at the Zoo, we will think of it as a period of despair, a period of worry, sleepless nights, even tears, but at the same time experienced the most amazing level of kindness and generosity by so many.

“Also, we will always think of the incredible team spirit and bond we have experienced too.

“Survival has been an extremely hard experience, like it has been for many other families and businesses. The same question comes around every day, what will tomorrow be like?”

Dr Tropeano is now continuing to look forward to the day when the zoo can finally reopen to customers.

Despite not having anything confirmed, he is hopeful that it may be soon.

He said: “The levels of infection at the moment gives us some hope. With spring around the corner perhaps there will be daylight at the end of the tunnel.

“We hope that later this month the Prime Minister will be in a position to give a green light of hope for March or April, so we will be able to proudly re-open our doors.

“When we re-open we need your visits, not only will we enjoy your company but we have also conducted a low-level research analysis and strongly believe that many species of animals, because of the change of behaviour over the past months, have missed you as their daily therapy.

“So please come along but understand there will be limits to the number of visitors we can allow in at one time, so please also be patient and understanding.

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“Since the Pandemic started there has been so much support, messages, letters and emails received. We thank you so much, we will cherish every single one and will do our best to repay this kindness.

“We will remember this period as a period that has changed our lives, maybe our beliefs too but it must also remind us of the kindness, the generosity, and even some heroism of many men and women.

“Never should we forget this and let us all learn to be kind and respectful to our neighbour but also to Mother Nature so our children and grandchildren will be able to live and prosper in peace.

“We hope to see you soon.”

Essex Live – Colchester