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.
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.
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.