A zoo in Devon has become the first in the UK to close permanently because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Living Coasts, a conservation charity in Torquay, will not reopen as a visitor attraction after being unable to manage its "substantial” maintenance costs during the lockdown without income from ticket sales.
Zoos were given the green-light to open doors again from Monday but several have delayed reopening despite being shut through all of April, May and half of June, with staff still needed at the sites to tend to the animals.
Some of the biggest animal attractions in the country have warned they are at "risk of extinction”, with some revealing their future "hangs in the balance" and saying they need a "significant injection of cash" to survive.
Living Coasts, which has been operating for nearly 20 years as a coastal zoo, is the first to confirm its gates are staying closed.
The zoo, run by Wild Planet Trust, which also owns Paignton and Newquay Zoo, is currently looking at finding new homes for its animals and said it would do everything in its power to avoid the need to euthanise any of them.
All 44 members of staff have been placed at risk of redundancy.
In a statement on its website, a spokesperson wrote: "It is with regret that Wild Planet Trust has to announce that it will not be reopening Living Coasts as a visitor attraction following its closure during the current global coronavirus pandemic.
"Falling visitor numbers and the forced closure of all its zoos due to COVID-19 has meant that it has had to look at its cost base and make efficiencies.
"After nearly 20 years of operation the site also needed substantial maintenance that the Trust is no longer in a position to afford.”
Living Coasts is part of a worldwide network of zoos and aquariums and will be looking for homes for the animals once movement restrictions have been lifted.
"Most of the animals kept at Living Coasts are marine species that will need specialist facilities. Living Coast is confident that good new homes for the animals will be found, but at present it is unclear how long this process may take,” the spokesperson said.
The zoo said it is “unlikely” that it won’t find housing that suits the animals’ needs but that it may need to make the difficult decision to euthanise. However, it does “not anticipate that this is a likely scenario".
Living Coasts has been a hugely popular destination for school trips since it opened in 2003.
The charity said it has hosted 6,500 school visitors a year since opening and has focused on the conservation and protection of many of the marine species it looks after, including penguins, otters and seals.
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