Animal magic continued behind closed doors through lockdowns despite ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s toughest year yet

One year of animal magic behind closed zoo gates

Friday, 19th March 2021, 10:30 am
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL

One year ago, on March 21, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo announced that it was closing its gates for the first time since the Second World War.

At the time, no one could have predicted the colossal impact the pandemic would have on ZSL (Zoological Society of London), the international conservation charity that runs the Zoo, which relies on income from its visitors to survive.

Behind the gates, however, the animals of the UK’s largest Zoo were continuing to grow and thrive under the care and attention of its close-knit team of dedicated zookeepers and vets.

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Dedicated vets and zookeepers like Elephants team leader Stefan Groeneveld cared for the animals at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo despite there being no income from visitors (C) ZSL

From baby red pandas to mating rhinos, from spring’s first fawns to winter’s snow-dusted Amur tigers, life continued for the Zoo’s 3,500 creatures across its vast, 600-acre site, even if there were no visitors there to witness it.

In December, while the world’s eyes were on the very first Covid-19 vaccine being administered, keepers and vets were supporting the safe delivery of a reticulated giraffe calf, who they named Margaret after the Covid vaccine’s first UK recipient.

Despite the trying circumstances, the Zoo’s keepers, vets and ground-staff went to enormous lengths to ensure the animals were as well cared for as ever, hand-rearing tiny, Chinese water deer that were vulnerable to predators and creating a Christmas winter wonderland for the Zoo’s herd of Asian elephants out of Christmas trees.

Keepers spent extra time with any animals that they felt may be missing the company or excitement of visitors, and gave them enrichment toys to explore, donated by members of the public via the Zoo’s Amazon wish-list.

Endangered Amur tigers Dmitri and Czar enjoy the sunshine in an empty ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL

For the charity behind the Zoo, however, the financial losses were devastating. With no government support, ZSL lost £20million of income due to the closure of Whipsnade and London Zoos in 2020 alone. That figure is set to rise to £26 million by April 12, the earliest date on which zoos – even vast outdoor spaces like Whipsnade - will be permitted to reopen.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Chief Operating Officer Owen Craft said: “Over the past year of closures, the support of local people and our members has been a lifeline as feeding the animals alone costs the two zoos £1m a month and we have not been able to furlough staff that are needed to care for the animals.

"But it was really wonderful to see those people here in person, enjoying the beauty and wonders of the Zoo during the weeks that we were open last year, and we can’t wait to have them back soon.”

Future visitors and animal lovers can support ZSL Whipsnade Zoo here.

Spring blossomed across the empty 600-acre site of the UK's largest Zoo (C) ZSL
Open! ZSL Whipsnade Zoo was able to reopen, with limited capacity, from 15 June 2020 (C) ZSL
Chinese water deer are born weighing less than 1kg, less than a bag of flour, so keepers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo cared for them around the clock. July 2020 (C) ZSL
An Asian elephant plays during the summer sun at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL
An Endangered red panda cub born in August 2020 at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. It is estimated there are less than 10,000 red pandas remaining in the wild. (C) ZSL
Visitors safely queueing for tickets to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL
Autumn came and Pumpkin the aptly-named squirrel monkey enjoyed veggie treats from keepers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo'S Northern rockhopper penguins also enjoyed their fishy snacks (C) ZSL
During the UK’s second lockdown, keepers introduced southern white rhino Jaseera to 32-year- old Sizzle as part of the EEP conservation breeding programme (C) ZSL
Bird keeper George Spooner runs a marathon around ZSL Whipsnade Zoo to raise money for the charity (C) ZSL
In December, the Zoo opened for just 18 days before it was forced to close once again Pictured, Greater one-horned rhino Zhiwa and her mum at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. (C) ZSL
While the first COVID-19 vaccine was given to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, giraffe Luna gave birth to a calf, which keepers named Margaret in recognition of the poignant date. (C) ZSL
Young Elizabeth and her herd of endangered Asian elephants enjoy a winter wonderland of Christmas trees created by keepers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (C) ZSL
A Eurasian lynx. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo re-opened on New Year’s Day only to be told it must close again on 4 January, placing further financial hardship on the conservation charity. (C) ZSL
An endangered wolverine enjoys heavy snowfall at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in February 2021 (C) ZSL
Keepers snapped snowy scenes like these Bactrian camels at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo so that members and supporters could enjoy glimpses of life behind the closed gates. (C) ZSL
A squirrel monkey plays with a toy donated by a supporter using ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Amazon wishlist. (C) ZSL
As government guidance prevents it opening before April 12, the conservation charity is asking supporters to donate at zsl.org or visit as soon as it’s able to welcome guests. (C) ZSL