Chester Zoo has been given the all clear to reopen after closure during the coronavirus pandemic left it facing several million pounds of debt.
It comes as the UK Government is set to announce that zoos, safari parks and drive-in cinemas can reopen in England from June 15.
The Prime Minister is expected to update the nation on the easing of the restrictions on Wednesday as he tries to reopen the economy while minimising Covid-19’s rate of transmission.
Under pressure from zoos warning they face an existential threat, Mr Johnson will say at the Downing Street press conference they can reopen next week as long as they can uphold social-distancing rules.
Chester Zoo said last week that it was facing crippling financial pressure after being forced to close nearly three months ago.
Bosses warned the zoo would face debt in excess of £24 million by the end of 2020 if it remained shut, and that it needed to raise £1.6 million each month to keep going.
A public campaign to save it saw more than £3 million raised through donations, with local MPs also lobbying for the zoo’s future. But this latest news has given Chester Zoo hope it can survive, its chief operating officer Jamie Christon said.
He told ChesterLive : “A week ago we were in despair, not knowing when we would reopen, or if we could even survive if our gates had to remain closed for much longer.
“But the unwavering support of the public, our members, those MPs who listened to us and backed our corner, and our global community has completely humbled us. It’s wonderful that, together, we have been heard. We’ll be forever grateful to those who lent us their voice in our moment of need.
“To them we say thank you, from the very bottom of our hearts. We are also incredibly thankful to the government for taking this step, for us, and for conservation of threatened species.”
Despite the positive news, he said the zoo’s recovery will be a long one.
“There’s no denying that the zoo has suffered severe financial damage over the past three months and the road to recovery will be long and uncertain,” he said.
“However, we now start the process of rebuilding this great charity zoo, as we prepare to safely welcome back visitors through our gates – albeit in much, much fewer numbers – from Monday 15 June.”
The announcement from Boris Johnson will apply to England only, and the Welsh Government’s five-mile guidance remains in place, meaning would-be visitors from Wales outside of this radius can’t yet visit.
For now, zoos and animal sanctuaries in Wales will remain closed to the public, despite many facing an uncertain future.
Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo in Pembrokeshire previously told WalesOnline it costs nearly £60,000 every month just to keep the animals fed and watered. And closure during the Easter week left them short of an expected £2 million.
Speaking out about the Prime Minister’s decision, Folly Farm said: “We’re delighted with today’s news for our zoo friends in England that have been given permission to reopen from 15th June. We send them so much love and support.
“This is the right decision as zoos and safari parks can provide safe, Covid 19 secure, managed outdoor spaces for families to socially distance, much more so than unregulated, crowded beaches and parks.
“However, this does not change anything in Wales. We are still closed indefinitely and have been given no date for when we’ll be allowed to re-open.”