Award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park was all quiet yesterday after temporarily closing in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Visitors enjoyed the unique walk-through experience coming almost face to face with some of the world’s most beautiful and at a risk animals for the last time in a while on Sunday. Then the staff locked the gates due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation.
Today, the 120-acre park is deserted apart from rangers dutifully caring for all the animals.
The park has kept a core team of staff on-site who will be working all hours to maintain optimum welfare standards and care for the animals.
Three separate staff teams are in operation so that if one team is depleted by the virus, the other teams will be unaffected and can continue their vital work.
Deputy Carnivore Leader Colin Northcott is being kept busy feeding the Meerkats and the African Painted Dogs amongst others.
He said: “It’s quite striking that all I can hear are the dogs and the birds in the woods. Normally this would be a busy area with guests everywhere and children playing together. It is very odd that we are in this kind of limbo. It is a really surreal kind of feeling.
“It is so important we knuckle down and do what the government is telling us. Let’s get this back to normal sooner by acting quicker.”
As he drove through the park delivering food he added: “We have seen a lot of changes here following Covid-19, the biggest difference is that we are down to a skeleton staff. Previously we would look after 2-3 animals each per day but now we are looking after pretty much all of them. Although it’s fantastic to interact with the ones that we wouldn’t see every day, it’s still a lot of hard work to do.”
CEO John Minion said: “It is a sad time for us and it was a very difficult decision to close on Sunday as we have been asked by numerous visitors to stay open so our 120 acres of the park could be used for exercise and fresh air whilst enjoying our unique collection of animals.
“But after frequently reviewing the situation we felt it was our responsibility to be part of the national solution to stop the spread of this terrible virus – and as it turns out, we would have been no choice other than to close after the prime minister’s statement on Monday night’.
“This is a vital move by the Government to ensure the safety of everyone, especially the most vulnerable in our society and one which we fully support”.
YWP, in Branton near Doncaster, puts conservation at the heart of all its activities and welcomes 750,000 visitors each year. The extensive park offers a unique walk-through experience coming almost face to face with some of the world’s most beautiful and endangered animals including Amur Leopards, Amur Tigers and the country’s only Polar Bears.
John continued, “The site is very strange without our guests here. Very quiet and empty. Even the animals know that something has changed. Our dedicated animal team will not just be feeding and cleaning out the animals but making sure that they have environmental enrichment to keep them happy.
“We will reopen when the time is right and really hope it will be soon. Looking after our staff and visitors as well as our animals will as always remain our number one priority.
“We’d like to thank everyone for their messages of support and to those who have bought tickets and vouchers for the future to help us out.”