When can zoos reopen and how to pre-book your tickets?

(Image credit: Craig Sellars)

With school holidays just around the corner, many animal lovers are wondering when zoos can reopen.

They've been closed since the third lockdown began in January, along with non-essential shops and other places like gyms and swimming pools.

Now under the government's roadmap, zoos have a date on the horizon when they'll be able to open the sites to visitors once again. Speaking about the end of lockdown, the prime minister said that he hoped for all restrictions to be removed from June 21 and was "very optimistic" about the new plan. But he urged "nothing can be guaranteed", so it is still important to follow the rules.

With this in mind, when might zoos be able to reopen this year?

When can zoos reopen?

Zoos will open anytime from April 12, according to the roadmap. They are one of the businesses that are allowed to open again in step two of the plan, which sees major industries including retail and outdoor hospitality allowed to reopen again as well.

Small boy looking at penguin in tank, as zoos are told when they can reopen after lockdown

Credit: Getty

Boris Johnson said that this stage, which is the second out of four stages, will begin "at least five weeks" after the first phase. There will be an announcement at least seven days in advance to give proper warning to businesses, but if all four criteria for lifting lockdown are not met then they won't be able to reopen.

The criteria for lifting lockdown are: the vaccine programme must continue to go to plan, the vaccines must sufficiently reduce the number of people dying with coronavirus or in hospital with the virus, infection rates must not risk a surge in hospital admissions and there must be no new coronavirus variants that change the risk of lifting restrictions.

The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums has criticised the reopening date, as they argue that zoos are as safe as other outdoor spaces such as botanical gardens, which have been largely allowed stay open throughout lockdown under the UK exercise rules.

After the first lockdown, zoos opened up again relatively quickly. As the majority of the enclosures are outside and activities take place outdoors too, there's more chance for social distancing and so less chance for the virus to spread.

Which zoos are opening later this year?

In England, all zoos will be able to reopen from April 12. However as the devolved governments have different plans for lifting lockdown, they'll likely be reopening zoos at different times as well.

In Scotland, some zoos have already reopened as a "safe outdoor environment" for local residents as part of their own exercise rules for lockdown. From February 26, those who already have tickets and those who are members will be able visit Edinburgh Zoo, followed by everyone else in March. Strict social distancing is expected to be in place throughout the zoo with mask wearing made mandatory.

In Wales, all hospitality venues have to remain closed for now and a roadmap out of lockdown is yet to be produced by the government. It's expected that the details for lifting lockdown will be released after their next lockdown review on March 12.

Similarly, Northern Ireland's lockdown easing plan is due to be announced after their next lockdown review on March 18. All lockdown rules in Northern Ireland are set to remain in place until April 1.

Tiger in enclosure at the zoo

Credit: Getty

Which zoos are opening in the UK?

  • ZSL London Zoo
  • ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
  • Chester Zoo
  • Dublin Zoo
  • Colchester Zoo
  • Dudley Zoo and Castle
  • Howletts Wildlife Park in Kent
  • Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire
  • Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire
  • Port Lympne Reserve in Kent
  • Cotswold Wildlife Park
  • West Midlands Safari Park
  • Knowsley Safari
  • Chessington World of Adventures Zoo
  • Longleat Safari and Adventure Park in Wiltshire
  • South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria
  • New Forest Wildlife Park
  • Isle of Wight Zoo
  • Drusillas Park in East Sussex
  • Edinburgh Zoo
  • Newquay Zoo in Cornwall
  • Marwell Zoo in Hampshire
  • Blackpool Zoo
  • Exmoor Zoo
  • Bristol Zoo gardens
  • Paignton Zoo in Devon
  • Banham Zoo in Norfolk
  • Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire is open June 22 - 26 for members only

How to pre-book your zoo tickets

Zoos are opening in England during the late springtime, so it's currently too early to pre-book tickets.

However, most zoos across the UK will be implementing strict policies to ensure that they don't have too many people in the zoo at one time. This means, much like last year, many will only be selling limited numbers of tickets every day and not accepting ticket sales on the door.

The best place to pre-book tickets for the zoo when they're open again is on the zoo's website.

A little girl watching an elephant, as zoos have a date when they can reopen again

Credit: Getty

When were zoos able to reopen again?

Last year, Boris Johnson allowed zoos to reopen from Monday June 15 2020. It came almost three months after the first lockdown was announced in March and as a number of MPs and the prime minister's own father called for action to be taken, as many had been hard hit financially when the lockdown started.

The lockdown was naturally going to be a real problem for many zoos, as they often rely on visitor fees to keep their sites open. A spokesperson for Colchester Zoo told the Daily Mirror last year, “We think that being able to re-open in July would be wonderful but this could go on until September or October, we could not last until then, so to survive we will need to approach banks to help us out.”

Similarly, London Zoo is reportedly facing its worst ever financial crisis after closing for the first time last year since World War Two. According to MailOnline, it costs £2.3million per month to feed and look after all the animals.

Chester Zoo reported similar hardships because of the virus, resulting in debts of £2.4 million. Although Iceland - the supermarket high-street chain - stepped in to help them out by adopting the zoo's entire hoard of Humboldt penguins.

With some zoos struggling to get financial support from the banks, as they’ve never money borrowed before, there was doubt around when the zoos would be able to reopen again and if every single one of them would be able to.

penguins at the zoo

Credit: Getty

What’s been happening to the zoo animals in lockdown?

As you can see if you tune into one of the zoos’ live streams, the animals seem to coping well in lockdown. Keepers at London Zoo, for example, are staying in lodges on site to make sure that they can care for the animals and offer them human interaction.

At Dublin Zoo the animals are apparently wondering, “what’s happened to everyone”. Director Leo Oosterweghel told the Irish Times that the animals are now surprised to see him, saying, "They come up and have a good look. They are used to visitors". While at Phoenix Zoo in America, the keepers have noticed a real change in behaviour from the animals. The zoo’s communications director Linda Hardwick told the BBC, "We have noticed that some of our more 'social' animals are not a fan of the stay at home and social distancing orders. Primates especially have noticed our guests are gone and go looking for them."

Grace Walsh
Features Writer

Grace Walsh is a health and wellbeing writer, working across the subjects of family, relationships, and LGBT topics, as well as sleep and mental health. A digital journalist with over six years  experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace is currently Health Editor for womanandhome.com and has also worked with Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more. After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness.