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As the first families began to filter in to Twycross zoo in Leicestershire on Monday morning, William clapped his hands with excitement.
He is one of 15 chimpanzees at the 40-hectare (100-acre) zoo that have been longing for the return of visitors after months in lockdown.
“They’re so excited that people are coming back. They haven’t seen many people that they haven’t recognised in a while,” said Karen Clarke, the zoo’s chief operating officer. “They love to play and pull funny faces, and they interact with the children as well and the children love it. The chimps almost copy them.”
Outdoor attractions in England, including zoos and theme parks, have once again been able to open their doors from Monday, with social distancing measures in place and restrictions on numbers. Twycross zoo is operating at 40% capacity with a booking system to ensure crowds are spread out across the day, while handles and surfaces are disinfected regularly.
By midmorning the zoo was starting to fill up with families and lots of delighted children. One was 19-month-old Sophie, who has just started saying the word monkey and was amazed to see the animals in real life, having only known them from books and videos.
“She’s been shouting at all the monkeys and feeding the birds. It’s really nice that she can start getting more of a sense of what’s out there in the world,” said her father, Jonathan Branch. “We have been a bit lockdown fatigued so we were keen to come back for the first day it was open. And we’ve read about their lack of funding so we wanted to do our bit.”
Due to charity regulations, the zoo was unable to apply to the government’s zoo animals fund and has had to borrow money to cover its costs.
“We can’t furlough our animals,” said Clarke. “They still needed to be fed and looked after, so we had to keep all the keepers on. It’s really difficult to pull back costs completely. We got through our reserves really quickly and it could be up to five years until we get back to where we were financially.”
The zookeepers normally savoured their one day a year – Christmas Day – when they got the animals all to themselves, but now the novelty has worn off and they are pleased to see people back.
“I’m really excited to have the atmosphere back in the zoo again. We just want the buzz back and to see people enjoying the animals as much as we do,” said Yianna Cooling, an animal team leader at the zoo.
Twycross is renowned as a specialist primate zoo – it is the only place in the UK where you can see all types of great ape – and they were the animals that appeared most excited to see humans again, running up to the glass to pull faces and making loud noises as they swung from branches.
But even Jahly the Sumatran tiger seemed content to pose on top of the glass tunnel as visitors walked underneath, and the rainbow lorikeets were overwhelmed by the amount of food on offer from guests keen to entice them down from their branches.
Staff said it had been interesting to monitor how the animals’ behaviour changed during the lockdowns, and the zoo is collaborating with university researchers to assess just what impact the lack of crowds may have had.
Back in the chimp enclosure, the delighted audience watching William began to mirror his clapping and a round of applause broke out. Clarke said: “It’s like a celebration. It’s just so nice to see people back.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘It’s like a celebration’ for the animals and staff as Twycross zoo reopens | Zoos