Chester Zoo could go out of business after losing millions of pounds as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The zoo, located in Cheshire, could be in more than £24m in debt by the end of 2020 and is “at risk of extinction”, bosses said.
Managers are eager to open the site and have confirmed it is “COVID-secure” and that they would be able to limit numbers and enforce social distancing.
But the government has not given zoos the green light to reopen.
Chester Zoo chief operating officer Jamie Christon said: “As the UK’s biggest and most popular charity zoo, we’ve tried to stay positive during this pandemic.
“Our conservationists have continued to prevent extinction, our virtual days have cheered up the nation, and our learning resources have helped out thousands of homeschooling families. We wanted to remain a beacon of hope.
“But now, the government has ordered us to stay closed indefinitely and Chester Zoo is very much fighting for its future.
Launching the Save Our Zoo appeal on Wednesday, the zoo said the loss of 97% of its income from visitors was having a “devastating impact”.
The visitor attraction needs £1.6m a month to keep going, including £465,000 a month to care for the 35,000 animals, a spokesman said.
Directors and staff have taken voluntary pay cuts, half of the workforce has been placed on furlough and development projects have been put on hold as the zoo tries to offset the financial loss.
Christon added: “While we see pictures of public beaches, parks and UK beauty spots busy with people, our zoo – a huge outdoor space, with 16km of pathways, and numerous measures in place to ensure that we can provide a safe environment for guests – sits empty.”
Christon said: “Chester Zoo contributes over £83.1m to the regional economy, supports over 1,700 jobs, protects wildlife in more than 30 countries around the world and engages over 150,000 young people – the future of our planet – every year.
“At a time when global environmental pressures escalate, the seriousness of losing a conservation charity cannot be stressed enough.”
More than 2 million people visited the 128-acre zoo in 2019 and “virtual tours” have been shown online during lockdown.
The charity also has 80 global projects to prevent the extinction of species in the UK and across the world.
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