Families flock to zoos as they reopen across UK for first time in three months

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Chester Zoo welcomed thousands of animal lovers on Monday when it opened its gates for the first time in almost three months.

And the UK’s biggest visitor attraction outside London is sold out for the next month.

The future of the zoo’s 35,000 animals had been under threat after it suffered huge lockdown losses.

And a public appeal for financial help has raised more than £2.5million.

But what the staff wanted more than anything was to see children enjoying seeing the animals once again.

Ewa Dryglewska, 26, who helped ensure visitors observed social distancing at the penguin pool, said: “It is really lovely to see all the people again and I really believe the animals are excited too.”

Steph Crone, 34, and her daughter Ellie, six, from Liverpool, are zoo members and would normally visit every couple of months.

“Ellie was so excited to be coming back she was up at 10pm last night thinking it was already the morning” said post office worker Steph.

“Everyone is just so happy to be out in the fresh air in a safe environment.”

Victoria Rhodes, 31, and daughter Caitlin, four, from St Helens, Merseyside, are also regular visitors and were delighted to see the giraffes once again.

Student teacher Victoria said: “It is fantastic to see the zoo open again.

It is a relief to be able to come where we know we can have a day out and know things are being arranged safely.”

Bank manager Kerri Flowerday, 32, from Hawarden, north Wales, watched the elephants with her 11 month old daughter Imogen.

“We have been waiting for it to open for months and we think it should have opened weeks ago” said Kerri.

Hayley Wooley, 30, and husband Ste, 28, from Denton, Greater Manchester, had brought their sons Jax, five, and Louie, two, for a day at the zoo.

They booked tickets as soon as the zoo announced it would be open for business again last week.

“The boys were so excited they could not even eat their breakfast” said Hayley.

“Apart for a walk in the park, it is the first time we have had a day out for ages.”

The zoo usually has around 12,000 visitors a day during the summer and had a record two million last year.

But over the coming weeks it is limiting daily numbers to 3,000, with tickets only available online.

Hand sanitisers and social distancing markers have been installed around the 128 acre site.

And the zoo hopes more tickets will be available in the coming weeks, especially if the government relaxes its ‘two metre’ distancing advice.

Chief Operating Officer Jamie Christon said: “Because we have been closed for such a long time it feels like a historic moment.

“It was our 89th birthday last week and it has only been closed twice before, once for the Second World War and once because of foot and mouth, so we are delighted to have it open to the public.”

But he warned: “We are definitely not out of the woods, we already have a £5million hole in our finances this year and we will make a loss this year, which is the first time in at least a decade, so Covid has really left a deep financial scar on us.

“It is going to take us two or three years to get us back to where we were, if it ever happens.”

Chester was one of a number of zoos and safari parks which opened on Monday.

There were long queues outside London Zoo in Regent’s Park and it’s chief operating officer Kathryn England said it was “glorious” to welcome back visitors.

But the end of the lockdown came too late for the Living Coasts zoo, in Torquay, Devon, which will close for good and look for new homes for its mainly marine animals.

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