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More than £1m has been raised in 24 hours for one of the UK’s largest zoos after it said lockdown had left it “at risk of extinction”.
Chester Zoo, which has been closed since 21 March, said it had been told by the government to prepare to stay shut “indefinitely”.
A crowdfunding page was set up on Wednesday after the zoo’s boss said it could face a year-end debt of £24m.
The zoo said the cash was a “massive boost” during its “biggest crisis”.
Chief operating officer Jamie Christon said the zoo costs more than £1.6m a month to run and gets 97% of its income from visitors.
“Not being able to open, despite being a huge outdoor site with all the necessary safety measures in place, is having a devastating impact on the future survival of this much-loved charity zoo,” Mr Christon said.
He said it faced more than £24m of debt by the end of the year which would “financially cripple us”.
During lockdown the zoo has engaged with visitors by hosting Facebook live videos with animals including red pandas, elephants, tigers and penguins.
A number of MPs said they had written to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ask for the zoo to be allowed to reopen as soon as possible.
Edward Timpson, Conservative MP for Eddisbury, said the attraction was a “much-loved local asset”.
Cheshire Labour MPs Chris Matheson, Justin Madders and Mike Amesbury wrote a joint letter to Mr Eustice, saying they had been “inundated” with emails from constituents upset about the risk of losing the zoo.
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On Facebook Jane Martin said the work the zoo does is “amazing”.
“How on earth can the government deem this an unsafe place to be, it improves mental health, can be easily controlled, you can social distance with ease!
“So much safer than many things they have already open! I hope they see sense and open up soon,” she said.
Tom Wood said: “If Chester Zoo was to close we would all be poorer for it.”
And Anna Molloy-Johnston added: “You can’t close indefinitely you’re crucial to the survival of these endangered animals.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said while zoos have not been included in the list of outdoor ticketed venues that can reopen, work “to understand how and when” they may be able to was “ongoing”.
A spokesman added: “We understand the challenges faced by zoos during these unprecedented times but it’s vital that we do not move too quickly in reopening to ensure public health is protected.
“We have provided a £14m support fund to ensure zoos are able to continue to care for their animals.”