Words & pics by Ed King
As zoos and safari parks across the country reopen from 15th June, when the Government eases the lockdown restrictions for selected businesses and tourist attractions, one Erdington family is busy fundraising to help save Twycross Zoo.
“A special place,” for the Campion Garden residents, Ollie (9) and Rosie (5) Kinsella are embarking on a 5k sponsored walk around Pype Hayes Park – hoping to raise £500, dressed head to toe as their favourite animals, by Saturday 27th June.
To know more about Ollie and Rosie’s sponsored walk to help save Twycross Zoo, or to make a donation, visit www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/ollieandrosietosavethezoo
“I went there for my first ever birthday,” tells Ollie – as he practices hiding like a Zebra, in his black and white camouflage costume, behind the sofa.
“My favourite animals are penguins, because… they swim. And I like swimming under water. But there are no penguins at Twycross Zoo, so I’m a zebra… they’re my favourite because they’re stripy and they run fast. I can already run fast.”
Rosie has opted to be a flamingo, because she is an expert at standing on one leg and “flamingos are my favourite because they are pink.”
But the Erdington family of four are worried that the prolonged lockdown could put the UK’s zoos and safari parks at serious risk, seeing them as important places for children’s experience and education about the wider world.
“Obviously, you can’t just go to South Africa and see the animals in the wild,” says Chantal Kinsella – Ollie and Rosie’s mum.
“Some people are against zoos because the animals are not in their natural habitat. But you get to see things that you wouldn’t normally get to see every day – you get to see how they’re looked after, they do talk shows, they feed the sea lions… it’s a place of learning for the children.”
As thousands of businesses across the UK were forced to shut their doors from 23rd March, helping to stem the spread of COVID-19, zoos and safari parks have been closed to the public since early spring. But following guidelines from Public Health England, places that operate outdoors have begun to reopen as they are seen as lower risk.
“I am very grateful to the zoo industry for their cooperation and forbearance,” explained Boris Johnson during the Government’s daily briefing on Wednesday 10th June, “and am happy to confirm that they too can reopen from Monday (15th June), provided visitor numbers are managed and safeguards put in place.
“That includes keeping indoor areas such as reptile houses closed and facilitating social distancing.”
But as the light at the end of the economic tunnel begins to shine, there are still concerns for the welfare of such beloved places of interest.
“People take it for granted that the zoos are always going to be there,” explains Craig Strawfrord, Ollie and Rosie’s dad – who once had a closer than usual encounter with a giraffe when he was stationed in Kenya, training for Afghanistan.
“People might think just because they’re opening, they’re magically going to get the money back. But businesses can still be trading by slowly going under, because of the debt and interest rates. So, every little bit we can give them helps.”
“Originally the zoos weren’t opening so they weren’t getting any income whatsoever,” adds Chantal, “they are opening now – but there’s still a shortfall because the zoos are not going to be able to have as many guests as they normally would have.”
Twycross Zoo first opened in 1963 and welcomes over half a million visitors to see the 500 animals in their care – including the ‘the largest collection of monkeys and apes in the Western World.’
The reported costs of running the wildlife sanctuary are over £500,000 per month.
But to Ollie and Rosie Kinsella it is a place of magic and learning, where they can experience wonders of the world a short distance from home. And if it helps to keep Twycross Zoo open for birthdays to come, walking 5km around Pype Hayes Park is a small price to pay.
“They tell you facts,” explains Ollie – who is now trying to stand like a flamingo alongside his sister Rosie, “like how cheetahs can run fast… Did you know there’s a neon fish, that glows in the dark? In the sea. But they live very deep, so you’d need to dig a really big hole to see them.
“I’d like to see a giraffe, like the one that walked over Daddy when he was in the war… But If I saw a tiger I’d run… or I’d fight back.“
Ollie and Rosie will be making their 5k sponsored walk round Pype Hayes Park on Saturday 27th June – aiming to raise £500 to help save Twycross Zoo. For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/ollieandrosietosavethezoo
To find out more about Twycross Zoo, visit www.twycrosszoo.org