Plans to expand the African savannah habitat, which had been due to open in 2022, have been delayed as the zoo works to recover from the financial impact of Covid-19, which left a “deep scar” on its business.
Under the plans, approved in September 2019, the Grasslands section of Chester Zoo would be extended to include an African Wetlands Aviary containing flamingos, and a savannah habitat home to the Rothschild’s giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, ostrich and Roan antelope.
Next to the savannah, the zoo wants to create an experience of the Tsavo region of Kenya featuring black rhino and painted dogs, and a Rift Valley area where smaller species can be seen among Kopje rocks, including vultures, aardvarks and warthogs.
There is currently “no timeline, or potential start date for the grassland project at the moment,” a zoo spokesperson said.
The project is part of the company’s £225m, 217-acre Natural Visions masterplan, unveiled in 2010.
Chester Zoo reopened on Monday after the Government changed its stance on outdoor attractions and permitted non-essential retail and leisure to restart. But Jamie Christon, chief operating officer at Chester Zoo, said the road to recovery remains uncertain.
He said: “It’s a huge relief to see visitors back at the zoo and there’s a real buzz of excitement about the place.
“However, while today is celebratory, it’s important to recognise that the past three months of closure means there will still be some very challenging times ahead.
“The financial damage suffered has left a deep scar and the road to a full recovery remains uncertain. But now, as we once again start to safely welcome visitors back, we have some renewed hope that this great charity zoo has a future.”
The Save Our Zoo campaign, launched to raise funds for Chester Zoo during its closure, raised more than £1m in the first 24 hours. In its appeal, the zoo said it was heading towards “debt in excess of £24m by the end of 2020” and needed to raise £1.6m a month to “or else be financially crippled”.
Barton Willmore is the planning consultant for the extension project, and Darling Associates is the architect.