Visit Chester Zoo and save our greatest Cheshire treasure
PUBLISHED: 17:44 29 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:44 29 June 2020
Chester Zoo has re-opened, but how does it all work with the new social distancing rules?
Every year my son and I visit Chester Zoo. During lockdown, while we had all that glorious weather, it was hard knowing that its thousands of adoring fans couldn’t visit and that as a result the zoo was heading rapidly towards financial crisis.
Luckily, in June the Government bowed to public pressure and allowed zoos and wildlife parks to re-open. On a normal day in June the zoo could expect to see anything up to around 15,000 people per day, but on reopening following lockdown they limited numbers to just 3,000, to make sure that visitors and staff can social distance safely around the whole zoo. Having their teams constantly out in the zoo monitoring and assessing things means that they have been able to carefully increase numbers a touch as time has gone on – notably adding a new afternoon-only ticket option.
I have to confess, it was rather lovely visiting while numbers were so low. Usually on a baking hot summer’s day one can expect to queue for everything from viewing the elephants to grabbing a welcome ice-cream, but on this visit there was barely more than a few minute’s wait to see anything we wanted – and everybody was excellent at maintaining their distance, all helped by regular reminders by the very many zoo staff found on every corner.
Even though we were outdoors, this was a concern for me. While I am aware of the need to keep my distance from others, it’s been my experience so far (mainly in the supermarket) that others are less committed. At Chester Zoo, there are reminders everywhere, staff keep people flowing along the left hand side of the paths, someone is monitoring a one-in-one-out system for all the loos and they have painted footprints two metres apart by all the food stops, making it dead easy to see exactly where you should be standing. And all of this is done with smiles, warmth and ease, making the whole experience still feel just like the day out we all really need now.
But while it might suit me, with visitor numbers held so low, the zoo is not yet out of the woods financially.
COO, Jamie Christon, says: “It’s a huge relief to see visitors back at the zoo and there’s a real buzz of excitement about the place. However, it’s important to recognise that the past three months of closure means there will still be some very challenging times ahead.
“We’ve had so many wonderful supporters and have been overwhelmed by the kindness that we’ve been shown when times are hard for everyone, not just us. The love, the passion and the energy shown by so many people all over the UK, has completely humbled us and I can’t express how thankful everyone at the zoo is.”
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The team at Chester Zoo has certainly worked hard to make the experience feel safe, as well as be safe, for this summer’s visitors. All tickets must be pre-booked online now and they have installed self-scanning ticket lanes which move though at such a pace there’s no risk of queuing. Before opening they also invested in floor markings throughout the zoo, one-way systems, multiple cleaning and hand sanitisation points, a huge amount of signage and protective screens in all of their key locations and food service areas.
As you would expect, all the cafes and restaurants are closed, but takeaway options are available from selected outlets. We enjoyed vast hotdogs and multiple ice-creams (a benefit of reduced numbers of course is reduced queuing time, leaving this mum with no excuse not to treat her son to another Ben & Jerry’s...
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, all the indoor animal houses and walk through exhibits, including aviaries, are closed to visitors. This has been recognised by the zoo however, as, despite the demand, ticket prices are not set in the highest price bracket and they have also introduced ‘afternoon’ tickets which are less than half the price of a full ticket.
Although the indoor habitats are closed right now, many species have access to large, outdoor areas too, of course, so you still stand a good chance of seeing your favourites. Mine are the big cats and spending even just a few minutes watching a huge lion sleeping his afternoon away on the hottest day of the year so far was a joy, but imagine my bliss when Goshi, one of Chester Zoo’s two jaguars, strolled across her enclosure, without a care in the world, to find a shady spot.
My son has loved the penguins best since he was a toddler and the set up – a huge glass window through which you can watch the birds swim – makes his year every time. We were able to find a place to just sit and enjoy the birds enjoy their day for a few minutes, both of us understanding just how privileged we are to have any opportunity to do this. It’s as exciting to gaze upon a rhino (or rhinososaurus as my boy called them as a toddler and has stuck with us ever since) as a meerkat, watching a giraffe stroll gracefully past always makes us smile (how, how are they so graceful when so gangly?!) and any chance to spot an orangutan must always be taken.
As Jamie Christon says: “The financial damage suffered has left a deep scar and the road to a full recovery remains uncertain. But now we’ve started to safely welcome visitors back, we’ve some renewed hope that this great charity zoo has a future.”
And that future is in our hands.
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