HERE I am, writing from an empty, echoing zoo again - writes Jack Williams, Zoo Manager at Lakeland Wildlife Oasis.

Even before the country locked down last week, with Cumbria moved to Tier 4 and the new variant spreading fast, we’d already made the difficult decision to close. With many people asking why, it all comes down to the important message: Stay safe, especially as the darkest hour is often just before a bright dawn.

Having to close popular indoor exhibits would have compromised our trademark intimate visitor experience too much.  Discouraging unnecessary travel would also help keep everyone safe: visitors, staff, and animals (many of our primates also risk catching or spreading COVID). And, coinciding with plummeting winter temperatures, we were not going to leave visitors shivering outside with no chance of a warming cuppa.

But then the announcement came to lock down; so regardless of indoor space, outdoor exhibits, tiers, compliance and that vital cup of coffee - all zoos are now closed.

Our zoo may be quieter, but there’s plenty to do! Excitingly, our new female dik-dik, Cora, arrived safely last week, and is being introduced to Dylan; by the time visitors are allowed to return, these two should be happily grazing the Africa Drylands paddock together.

And there’s always more to do when the temperature drops: increasing bedding and feed, or feeding more often; constantly monitoring our animals for any changes in behaviour or energy, and adapting accordingly.

Even our snow leopards, who many people naturally assume like it ‘the colder the better’. In reality, they’ve acclimatised to our climate; no surprise to those who’ve seen their love of tummies-out sunbathing.

Like previous lockdowns, the furlough scheme is a vital lifeline, with onsite staff remaining committed and vigilant (well-practiced by now) There’s plenty of warming building work to get on with, like the squirrel runways and new meerkat palace. And again, huge thanks to all the messages and offers of support in response to our online updates.

Just like the weather, we’ve frozen our annual passes again; so they’ll be extended by the length of time we’re closed. With vaccine rollouts coming, hopefully we’re into the final straight, and we’ll go through this challenge and out the other side as we always do: together.