The director of Fota Wildlife Park has spoken of his relief following confirmation of a reopening date.
Sean McKeown, who warned earlier this month that the 100-acre park in Cork faced permanent closure unless it reopened soon, described the news from Taoiseach Micheál Martin as a “good step forward”.
Mr Martin confirmed on Tuesday night that subject to the prevailing public health situation, outdoor visitor attractions, including zoos, wildlife parks, open pet farms and heritage sites can reopen on April 26th.
Mr McKeown said: “It’s been a worrying four months. We’ve lost about €2 million in income in the first four months of the year but it’s great now that we have a date to reopen and a roadmap to go forward.
It’s a lot better prospect than what we had two or three weeks ago when there was no indication of a reopening date.
“But it’s a little bit disappointing that it’s been pushed back to April 26 – April is usually our second busiest period after the summer months but we will focus now on being prepared for our visitors when they do come back, and on making sure they have a good time.”
Fota is run by the Zoological Society of Ireland, which also runs Dublin Zoo.
It remained open during the various lockdowns last year but its visitor numbers and income were decimated by the public health restrictions, especially the travel restrictions.
But it still had to feed and care for its animals, with running costs coming in at about €380,000 a month.
Sean McKeown, director of Fota Wildlife Park: 'It’s been a worrying four months. We’ve lost about €2m in income in the first four months of the year.' Picture: Denis Minihane
The park closed to visitors on January 8 as Covid figures surged during the third wave.
While the park has received just over €500,000 in financial support from the Government, Mr McKeown warned earlier this month that the facility had funds to keep them going until June, and could face closure if a reopening date wasn’t announced soon.
The public responded, with donations topping some €50,000 in recent weeks to help keep the park afloat. Mr McKeown thanked the public for their support.
We are really grateful and honoured that we have had so much public support. We’ve also had many messages of support from all over the world.”
“Being able to open in late April now gives us a chance to get some income in.
“We are now looking forward to being open for the May bank holiday weekend but there will be restrictions on visitor numbers.
“We won’t be operating at full capacity and therefore not at full income.”
Twin red panda cubs were born at Fota last year.
He said the park was very capable of managing the risk of Covid-19, through its pre-book and pre-pay system, with visitor numbers restricted to a maximum of 2,200 over the course of any one day in a park which could normally accommodate almost 10,000 a day.
“The park is a good place to go. It’s 100 acres, out in the fresh air, and we’ve done the calculations that we can take 2,200 people a day safely and comfortably, a figure we'll be building up to slowly, with adequate social distancing of up to three metres per person,” he said.
The park authorities are also working to extend the membership for those members who have been unable to use the park in recent months because of the closure.